Looking for answers: a discussion with Sasha Fathoullin ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


25 janvier 2017

Looking for answers: a discussion with Sasha Fathoullin

On ice pictures for this article courtesy of Tony Chung @SHORTTRACKHD

(Carl Savard - Passion/Speed/Skating) 

There are things in life we do without thinking, like putting one foot in front of the other, opening a door or brushing our teeth. We do most of those things without thinking, because we've been doing them for as long as we can remember. In a way, by repeating them, those things became part of us. In Sasha Fathoullin's life, you can add speed skating to that list. The twenty-one years old young man born of a canadian mother and russian father, got into short track speed skating at the young age of four and never wondered why... until last year.

Fathoullin's first steps on the ice took place in Iqaluit, Nunavut. At about 6 700 souls, Iqaluit is the smallest capital in Canada representing the biggest territory in the country. His first coach, John Maurice, had started the Iqaluit Speed Skating Club in the begining of the 90's with the help of Sandra Chenard from Speed Skating Canada. I got in touch with Mr. Maurice and the pride he has in being part of Sasha's journey is evident : « Sasha was a great skater from the very beginning and could perform amazing tricks of dexterity on the ice. I was always impressed and I kept in touch with the Fathoullins when they moved to Calgary and watched him compete as he grew up. »

The Fathoullin family moved from Iqaluit to Calgary when Sasha was six years old. It's in Calgary that he began competing in both long track and short track speed skating and pretty fast, he started setting records in his age groups in both sports. At around 14 years old, Sasha decided to focus on short track and it didn't take long to be recognized as one of the top prospect in the country. At 16, he moved to Montreal to train under an elite team of trainers led by three times olympic medallist Jonathan Guillemette and five times olympic medallist and four time world champion Marc Gagnon. The young skater started shining at the national level and then rocketed his way to the international scene with participations in the World Junior Championships, the World Cup circuit and World Championships. During the 2015-2016 season, Sasha Fathoullin helped the canadian team win a medal in the relay event at the World Championships. Earlier that season, he had won a gold medal in team relay and a silver individually on 500m in his first ever World Cup participation. Even his old coach John Maurice had made the trip from Nunavut to Toronto to cheer for him. Everything seemed perfect, almost movie like. The kid born with a gift in a small town, growing up in a loving caring family. The kid who traveled twice all across the country, pursuing his dream, pushing himself to the limit, ending up winning two World Cup medals on his first try of fighting against the best skaters in the world. With such a scenario, you can't wait to see him back on the ice so you fast forward the movie to september 2016 at the the first major event in canadian soil and realise the young man is nowhere to be found. So let's rewind...

Rewind is exactly what I wanted to do when I sat with Sasha Fathoullin on the first day of the Canadian Senior Championships two weeks ago. I wanted to know how he was doing, what had happened, where was he? I didn't want to ask people in the stands, entourage or coaches. I wanted to ask him: How are you? Not the automatic How are you? we serve to everyone we meet and that gets ninety-five percent of the time answered by Good! I was going for the heartfelt How are you? and for about an hour, I received heartfelt answers.

Sasha told me how from the outsider point of view of the short track speed skating fan I am, the last few years of his career might have looked like a great movie, but it wasn't. How much pressure he was putting on himself when representing Canada at the World Juniors because he felt he HAD to succeed. He told me how his parents have always been the supporting kind, never pushing him but how HE would put pressure on himself anyway. Looking back, he feels like he wanted it too much. A great example of this, is the fact that after enjoying big success at the national level as a junior, he would change his preparation for the World Junior Championships thinking he needed to do more to fight with the elite from around the world, instead of trusting the game plan that had given him results on the national stage. How that magical 2015-2016 season, taking part in World Cup events and the World Championships, was incredible on a results point of view, but on a personnal level it was the toughest year of his life. For the first time of his career, he had an injury that brought him great pain. He wasn't going to complain about it, because he was where he and everybody thought he should be, but it did drained him of a lot of energy going forward. He started having major insomnia issues, being days without sleeping at all. He would still show up to the arena to train, because it was his routine and he didn't want to look weak or be a distraction for the team. He started being on auto-pilot and not enjoying the lifestyle at all, just going through the motion, hoping everything would settle down, but it didn't. He started feeling something he had never felt before: he didn't enjoy skating at that moment and just that thought made him realize that maybe, he needed a break, but not a day or two pause, a real break. Since the age of four, he had never been away from the ice for more than three months. 

« I'm not a quitter, but I needed answers. » told me Fathoullin has we were talking in the stands, while his partners of the last few years were fighting on the ice. It became evident to him that he wouldn't find those answers by keeping the train rolling, because based on all the symptoms he had at the time, his life was probably about to turn into a trainwreck. While he was part of a team at the training center, in his personnal life he felt alone and started to get lost in his thoughts. He was in a hole and  didn't know how he would get out of it. 

Some people wait too long to reset. Some people never do and die slowly. Sasha Fathoullin didn't let his decision be influenced by the fact that he had just won three medals at the higher level. He pulled the plug on his career and the timing of that decision is an amazing proof of how strong this young man is.

For the last six months, the kid from Iqaluit took time to reconnect with some of the things he needed in his life. He realised he could find balance and still chase his dreams. He had always been aware of how important his parents were to him, but exchanging with them about what he had gone through in the last few years and realising how supportive they would be of any decision that would come out of that break, made him realise he was in charge of his destiny. He was the one making the choices and he had to base those choices on his vision of happiness.

With the support of his coaches, he is now back at the training center, focussing on weight training to rebuild his muscle mass and cycling to bring back his aerobic level to a higher point. He jumped on the ice for the first time two days ago. While not being in action during the Canadian Senior Championships, he was a spectator all weekend long. Even though he went through a roller-coaster of emotions, being in a position he never really had been before, he enjoyed his weekend a whole lot. He was able to appreciate and evaluate the actions the skaters were taking on the ice and understand how they felt on Sunday, when the stakes were high and the adrenaline was through the roof.

There are things in life we do without thinking and we never wonder why. For sixteen years, speed skating was one of these things for Sasha Fathoullin.  Last year, he wondered why and finally found his answer : because he really loves it.

0 commentaires:

Publier un commentaire