Dream big say small town skaters

Matthew Gourlie
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Sask. Olympians Lawrence and Swiegers skate in Caronport

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers are used to attending the annual Jean Norman figure skating competition.

Paige Lawrence, middle, and Rudi Swiegers sign an autograph for a young figure skater at the Jean Norman figure skating competition at the Bert Hunt Arena in Moose Jaw Saturday afternoon.

However, arriving to a line of a hundred people waiting to meet them and get an autograph is a new experience.

The Saskatchewan figure skating pair have been home from Sochi for less than a week, but already their post-Olympic lives have been noticeably different.

"Seeing the young people that showed up today for an autograph, it really blows my mind to be completely honest," said Lawrence. "I'm still the same small-town girl myself, so it's really strange that young kids want to get their pictures and autographs with us, but I'm really just trying to take that in and enjoy it. It's a gift that's been given to us and if I can give back to them, that's awesome."

By the smiles on some of the young competitors faces, it was pretty clear that meeting Lawrence and Swiegers made their day.  

It's not every day that young figure skaters at a competition in Moose Jaw get to meet a pair of Olympians, but what really sets Lawrence and Swiegers apart is how relatable they are. Lawrence is from Kennedy and Swiegers was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but moved to Kipling as a boy. They've spent their entire skating careers based out of their local area.

"It's strange because I never doubted that we could make it. Coming from a small community, training in smaller centres and never really leaving the home area — that's been really important to me," said Lawrence. "If I was going to achieve my dreams, it was going to be under our own rules. That's been a really important part to me — making it there and not giving up the things that matter the most to me."

Lawrence grew up on a ranch in a rodeo family. Her father Jim Lawrence was a bull rider and was named Cowboy of the Year by the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association in 1991.

The pair got together in 2005 at the Wawota Figure Skating Club for what was supposed to be a temporary partnership. Their coach Patricia Hole is from Virden, Man. and commuted to train them in Wawota, though the pair now train with her in Virden.

"I think it's really, really cool that we were able to do this and to show that it is possible from small town," said Lawrence. "It's an honour of ours that we were able to do it and hopefully inspire other athletes to believe in themselves too."

Swiegers said they rejected the "big city mentality" that they had to move to a bigger club in a city in order to achieve their dreams.

They burst onto the national scene by finishing second at the 2008 at junior nationals and saw no reason to change what had been working for them.

"When we kind of hit it big and medaled at junior nationals there was a lot of talk about (relocating)," said Swiegers. "We got home and had a meeting and said: 'these are the things we need.' We realized all of those things that we needed to train and be what we could be were available for us in our small communities. The moment we came to that realization, we never thought about moving. We had everything we needed in our small communities, so that's where we stayed."

The pair have finished third in the pairs competition at the Canadian championships four years running.

They finished 14th in Sochi and were 13th after their short program. Where they finished was of secondary importance to being able to live out their dreams.

"Years of hard work paid off in two short moments. We didn't really want to get off the ice because we know that the moment we got off the ice it was over for us. As much as we could soak up that moment, we tried to," Swiegers said. "We'll hold those moments for the rest of our lives."

Lawrence said it was an experience of a lifetime and rather than feeling any nerves on the Olympic ice, she said their two skates were her most enjoyable experiences as a skater.

"There's been times when it hasn't been fun. There have been times when it's been tears and blood and everything — it's been hard, but when I was there and skating on that ice I thought 'this is what it was all about,'" she said. "It was all worth it. It was amazing and it was the best thing in my life. I really can't say enough good things about it."

Lawrence turned 24 during the Games and Swiegers is 26. They aren't sure what the future holds for them looking ahead to the next Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in four years.

"We haven't had time to sit down and make a game plan. It's strange because for the last nine years these Olympics have been our goal and that's all we could ever think about," said Lawrence. "We haven't had time to unpack our bags, let alone start to think about the future."

After their appearance at the Jean Norman competition Saturday afternoon, they traveled to Caronport to skate in the Skate Canada — Saskatchewan Stars on Ice.

"I remember coming here when Road Show was the biggest thing in my year and I was always so excited for Jean Norman because it was the send-off for Road Show. Now it's strange be coming off the Olympics and coming back to Jean Norman. It's very strange," said Lawrence.

"Well in my books, the Jean Norman is still the biggest competition," joked Swiegers. "We finished the Olympics and now we're going to put our feet on the ice for Jean Norman."



Organizations: Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, Wawota Figure Skating Club

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Caronport, Sochi Virden Moose Jaw Cape Town South Africa Wawota Pyeongchang South Korea

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