Over the past decade, ELISE CHRISTIE has had quite a ride.
The ordeal of the 30-year-old short track speed skater is well known. Christie has not had it easy, from being disqualified from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi – not once, not twice, but three times – to a similar loss four years later at the 2018 Olympics, to a barrage of online violence including death threats and a battle with serious mental health problems in which she herself was hurt.
The Scot, who comes from Livingston, is resilient, however.
Many would have put it behind them, hung up their skates, put the violence behind them and attempted to move away from top-level sports with their lives.
But Christie isn’t. In recent years, she may have reached rock bottom, but she refuses to go down and still has her eyes set squarely on the 2022 Winter Olympics and, most importantly for her, she wants to show anyone who is struggling that at the end of the tunnel, no matter how low you fall, there is still a light.
Christie herself has avoided several chances to give up and is now on the other side of the tunnel, thinking that physically and, most importantly, emotionally, she is in better condition than she has been in a long time.
“I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time and I’ve found a love for my sport that I haven’t had in a long time. It was so nice to get that feeling back,” she says.
As an athlete, I’m in a better spot than average because, because of the pandemic, we’ve had so much time to compete this year that I’ve been able to concentrate on stuff I don’t generally focus on.
“I’m enjoying the training and I’m in the best shape I’ve been in in a long time.”
Some of the online harassment faced by Christie is downright appalling. In the aftermath of the 2014 Olympics, her first real encounter with it came after she was disqualified after a collision with a top South Korean runner, while more abuse followed the 2018 Olympics, where she again struggled to medal after crashes and a disqualification.
It would be easy to believe that by getting world and European titles to her credit, Christie could find some kind of fulfillment amid her Olympic failures.
But instead, she was so persuaded that becoming a runner was her only merit. So failing as an athlete meant she was useless in her own eyes as a human.
“The reason I was so afraid of failing and skating badly was because I knew I would hate myself for it,”The reason I was so scared of failing and skating badly was that I knew I’d hate myself for it.
“When I wasn’t doing well, I really had trouble motivating myself to skate, and I didn’t value myself at all, and then you get into a vicious spiral,” she says.
“I remember being at a competition and telling myself there’s just no point in being here if I can’t win.”
But a shift in coaching, along with professional assistance and treatment, has ensured that the mindset of Christie is scarcely identifiable from the one that surrounded her in her darkest days.
I recall people asking me to stop thinking of myself as just a runner, but it doesn’t matter who says that to you when you truly know that you are yourself.
It was my coach (former GB teammate Richard Shoebridge) who made me realize, she says, how real that is.
The separation of your success from you as a person is not easy. I think I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been through what I went through, and if I hadn’t had the psychological support I had, I wouldn’t have known why I was doing that, but looking back, I see now that it was.
I always felt that if you were not going to win, there was no point in doing anything, but Richard made me realize that sport is about more than just winning, and if I always did my best, I would never learn anything.
I went into training thinking everyone expected me to be awesome every day, but that wasn’t the case – it was me who expected every day to be amazing. I would go home if I had a bad practice and that was it — I would tell myself I was sucking and what’s the point? But now I’m going to think on how I can do better, and then I’m going to talk to my coach and go home and that’s it. And I’m getting on with my daily life.
However, Christie is not only committed to her own recovery. She has garnered a lot of respect in recent years for supporting the