Moving to Virden back in 2009 has paid off with a trip to Sochi, Russia for Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers.
The pairs figure skaters return to Manitoba today after clinching a berth in the Winter Olympic Games with a third-place finish at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa on Saturday night.
For both skaters, who are originally from Saskatchewan but live and train full-time in Virden with local coach Patty Hole, it’s a surreal feeling knowing they can now call themselves Olympians.
"It’s been an unreal journey with tons of ups and downs and it’s just a surreal feeling right now, knowing that we’re going and knowing that we’ve made it," the 26-year-old Swiegers said via telephone from Ottawa yesterday.
Clinching a spot in Sochi didn’t come easily for Lawrence and Swiegers, who struggled with elements in both Friday’s short program and Saturday night’s free skate, but fought through the mistakes to finish third at nationals for the third straight year.
"Yeah, the whole thing has just been a bit of a roller coaster," said Lawrence, a 23-year-old former Brandon University student who has battled through a groin/hamstring injury. "This season obviously wasn’t the season that we planned on having with the injury. But the last month leading up to nationals we were able to train really hard and came into nationals feeling really prepared. Then the skate didn’t go as planned, obviously, and there were some really positive moments in it that I am very proud of and proud of how we fought through everything. But it was still one of the scariest moments sitting ... and waiting for those marks to come up. And then just relief and joy and excitement washed over me ... I just so desperately wanted it."
Lawrence and Swiegers will now join Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and silver medallists Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch at the Sochi Winter Olympics, which begin in 24 days on Feb. 6.
For their coach, it’s the culmination of years of dedication and training with the young pairs team, work that began when Lawrence was still a teenager. And Hole couldn’t have been prouder watching her skaters battle through adversity to become Olympians.
"They made two major mistakes (in the free skate), but for them to just go, ‘OK, let’s not give up’ and then they just got stronger right to the end, that just shows the guts that they have to not give up," Hole said. "It wasn’t the skate they wanted because they have been skating really well ... and they felt really prepared, so it was disappointing to make a mistake in the short and then start out with those mistakes in the long. But they never quit and hats off to them, it’s just great."
Lawrence, a native of Kennedy, Sask., and Swiegers, originally from Kipling, Sask., now return home to Virden to train for a couple of weeks before heading overseas on Feb. 2. They are looking forward to getting back on the ice at Virden’s Tundra Oil and Gas Place to prepare for their first Olympics.
"The town of Virden and Patty our coach have just been fantastic ever since we moved there," Swiegers said. "We’ve got a brand-new facility in Virden, so the rink is right there and we’ve got a great gym and a nice running track above, so it’s just nice having everything under one roof just like a city centre would have and luckily we have it all tucked away in Virden, Manitoba. So it’s just been fantastic."
As for the Olympics, Lawrence and Swiegers haven’t quite set a goal for themselves just yet, but are looking forward to enjoying the biggest competition of their careers.
"We kind of have a picture in our heads, but what I learned this week is that picture is going to be painted differently when it happens," Swiegers said. "So we are going to expect the best and shoot for the best and see what happens."