Episode #83: Elizabeth Manley

Figure skating podcast. Elizabeth Manley is a 3-time Canadian Champion, 2-time Olympian, the 1988 World Silver medalist, and the 1988 Olympic Silver medalist in women’s figure skating. This Canadian Hall of Famer is also a commentator and blogger for ice skating and a mental health advocate. 1 hour, 3 minutes.

A full transcription is below:

(EM: Elizabeth Manley, AM: Allison Manley)

AM: Welcome to the Manleywoman SkateCast. Or should I say, welcome back. I’m your host. Allison Manley. And it’s been a hot minute since I last created a podcast … a bit more than a hot minute, if we want to be precise. Almost eight years! I started this podcast in 2007, which is really ages ago now. And in 2014, 7 years later, I needed to take a break. Which was unfortunate timing because frankly, 2014 was when podcasts were just getting popular and gaining traction!

So admittedly my timing was not great there and I did not anticipate that the break would be quite so long. But here we are again. And I want to thank all of you fans who have reached out over the years to say hello and ask when the Manleywoman SkateCast would be resurrected. Well, here it is! And I figured the best way to resurrect the podcast, especially a podcast by someone named Manley, is by having my guest be the other Manley — the far more significant and famous skating Manley —  Elizabeth Manley.

So, from one Manley to another, I am thrilled to bring back the podcast diving in with an interview with Elizabeth Manley. She is the three-time Canadian National Champion. She competed at the 1984 Olympics placing 13th. Then in the 1988 Olympics she won the silver medal. She also won the silver medal at the 1988 World Championships.

She is the author of two autobiographies and has also starred in three major television specials. She has been a commentator and has done some blogging as part of her duties and commentating. She is one any accolades including being inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, and the Skate Canada Hall of Fame, as well as being awarded the Order of Canada. But most importantly, which you will discover during this podcast, she is a mental health advocate.

So here we go. This interview took place on October 30th, 2021.

AM: I had a, I had an okay practice with my coach yesterday. That one wasn’t stellar, by any means. I had a great, I had a great lesson on Wednesday and then yesterday was sort of, okay. And then I got on the ice today, and I knew it was bad because — and, you know, how this goes, you can’t predict these things — but the zamboni broke on the ice! So there was, you know, it was in the lutz corner and it dumped … they had to lift it up and it dumped a whole bunch of snow.

So all of the adults were out there with the squeegees trying to move on.  And then he went around the corner to try to come back in the garage and broke down again in another spot. So we’re like …it was just, it was just one of those days!

EM: It makes me feel better. It’s not just me!

AM: No! I was running through my program and I’m like, here’s a rough patch. Here’s a rough patch. We’re just gonna, you know …

EM: Well it’s awesome to talk to you Miss Manley!

AM: I know! I’m so excited to finally meet the other skating Manley … the far more famous skating Manley.

EM: [Laughs] Well, you’re a little more famous than me right now because I’m not even on the ice!

AM: Oh, no! It’s hilarious how many times people in the skating world have called me Liz. I’m like no. Wrong.

EM: Really?

AM: Oh, yeah. All the time. They’re like, “oh, this is Liz. Manley.” I go, No! No, no.  She’s a whole lot better!

EM: [Laughs] That’s awesome.

AM: But I am thrilled to meet you. It’s been . . .

EM: I’m thrilled to meet you! I’ve been following you! Like, it’s great. Well, I knew as soon as Darren got a hold of me I said, “yeah, I know who she is, yeah sure.”

AM: Wow. Oh, I’m so excited you actually knew who I was!

EM: Mm hmm, I knew who you were.

AM: Wow, that’s great. And and I’ve also had many people ask me if we were related, and I will say that there is actually a distinct possibility. Because my grandfather Manley was the youngest of 11. And I don’t remember the exact year he was born, but I’m it was definitely around the turn of the century like 1900. And according to my own father, when his father was born — and he was the last of 11 — most of his older siblings, like half of them, five or six of them, had moved West and he never actually met them.

So there is a distinct possibility that you and I down the family tree. Like there could have been …

EM: Could be. Do you know what’s crazy is since I was — gosh, I guess I was probably about seven — I started competing against Charlene Wong. And Charlene and I competed against each other for years. Then she moved to my club to train with me. Then we were roommates at Olympics. And right after Olympics, we found out we were fifth cousins.

AM: I read that and my mind was blown. How is that?

EM: Her mother was related to one of my aunts. It’s like somewhere that she’s like a fifth cousin. And we’ve known each other our whole lives and we roomed together at Olympics. What are the chances of us finding that out? It was like so weird.

AM: That is weird. Well, anyway, let’s get started. Okay, it is amazing to meet my other Manley namesake in the skating world. So Elizabeth Manley: what is your most embarrassing skating related moment, on ice or off ice?

EM: Well, I had to think about what my most embarrassing moment was — and I know that a lot of your guests have always said costume malfunctions, which I’ve got plenty of those to tell you which is quite embarrassing — so I’m trying to avoid a costume malfunction. And I’m the only one I could think of was a few years ago.

As, you know, I’m a mental health advocate. And I produced a show called Elizabeth Manley & Friends, which had an All-Star cast and it was to raise money for teen mental health — so for suicide prevention, bullying, everything like that. And I had everyone in that show; I had Nancy Kerrigan, Elvis Stojko, Javier Fernandez … I had like a huge cast. And, so that the day of the show, right here, in Ottawa, we had probably one of the worst snowstorms the city has ever had. And it really killed the show; like a lot of people didn’t make it because it couldn’t even drive, it was so bad. And when we got back to the hotel, we were all just like, oh, you know because it’s was a Gala dinner, it was a show so … it was a busy weekend.

And I didn’t get to bed till late because we — being the producer of the event, I was, you know, part of shutting of down and closing up and everything — and I got a call at 6:30 in the morning from one of the skaters and said “is our Wi-Fi included, you know, in the hotel bill?” Because they were checking out to you know, we had shuttles for them to get to the airport, things like that.

So I said “yes, we’re supposed to. Let me come down to the front desk.” I was completely disheveled. I figured with a snow storm, the hotel was really quiet. Really empty. I was in my pajamas and my big furry slippers and I go down the hallway and I figured no one’s going to see. Hair was all upside down. I look tired. I’m in pajamas and slippers. I’m in the elevator. And as I’m sitting in the elevator watching the floors, the elevator decides to stop. And I’m like, “oh great,” right? Because I’m in my pajamas. And so I’m kind of in the corner and I’m slightly embarrassed that someone’s gonna get on the the elevator. And the doors open up …. and who would it be? It was Sidney Crosby!

So Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins had come in the night of our show because they were playing the Ottawa Senators the next day. They were staying in our hotel. He was going to the rink early for media. He was in a suit and tie, looked so good. And there I am in pajamas, no makeup, just crawled out of bed. Probably smelled like wine, I don’t know! It was like “oh my God,” so I kind of hid. And then he looked at me, and I went, “hi Sidney” like this. I kind of like try to turn my head a little bit. And he did recognize me. “Oh, I know you!” like this, right? I was so embarrassed, like “the first time I’m going to meet Sidney Crosby, this is the way I look!”

I was trying to think of, you know, all the, you know, the worst things? I think that was probably the last embarrassing moment as far as in my skating. And like I said, I’ve had numerous … I’m sure half of the US has seen me topless at shows at this point! I’ve lost my top a few times. But yeah, I think that was probably one of the good ones. You know, it’s when you don’t want something to happen, it always happens, you know?”

AM: Of course, of course. Yeah, and you know, the one time you’re not completely dressed to the Nine’s because skaters, you know?

EM: Yeah, or even in just real clothes, not pajamas, you know?

AM: Right, right.

Well, I loved reading about the fact that of course, as a Canadian, you know, you’re practically born on skates. And you were the only girl in a family of four with three older brothers all playing hockey. This is not unusual in Canada. But I loved reading that while your brothers were practicing on one surface, that on the other eye surface, you were being coached by your Mom. And she had to lure you with candy.

EM: Yes. Yeah. Well, the story even gets better. You know, I was kind of a brat in the rink. My brothers all played hockey. My dad was coaching. So on Saturdays, we’d spend 12 to 13 hours in the rink because of all the games, my dad coaching. And those were the days, you could leave a three-year-old running around and not worry about them, right? Because small town, everybody knew each other. And I ended up kind of playing a little trick. And the trick was throughout the whole day I’d go up to a new parent that I haven’t seen and I pull on their coat, and would say, “I can’t find my mommy and daddy. Do you have 50 cents for a hot chocolate?” So I would do this all day and I would never buy hot chocolate! And it was the one Saturday my dad when he lifted me to put me in the van, he knew I was really heavy, and I had like 30 dollars in quarters in my snowsuit.

So that’s how the conversation came up about “what are we gonna do with Liz? Because she’s robbing the parents. She’s running around. We have no control over her. She’s just hyper.” And that’s when my mom said, “Let’s put her in CanSkate. Let’s put her in learn to skate next door. And we’ll put her on two or three sessions, you know, it’ll keep her busy. It will be babysitting.” And that’s how I ended up starting my skating.

But, you know, my goal in skating had nothing to do with Olympics or being this big skater. It was just, “I want to be a better skater than my brothers.” So, it all started with that competitiveness of kid sister trying to, you know, be better than my brothers. And ironically I’m the one that wins the Olympic medal and they didn’t make the NHL. So my childhood dream wasn’t to go to the Olympics, it was just to be a better skater than my brothers!

AM: Well, and I love how your Olympic dream started with you basically being a swindler.

EM: Exactly! Obviously I wasn’t a swindler in the Olympics because I would have won Gold then!

AM: Hey, you won the long program though! So, you know. Well, I also was amazed to read that you skated on Friday. Afternoons from 4 to 8 pm for four solid hours. And then you went back again at midnight! I don’t know how your mother manage that with three older kids in the house. How did … how did that … as a mom, I just can’t even imagine taking my kids to the ice rink at one in the morning!

EM: I know. It was crazy. And it ended up, [that] she started bringing like a couple other skaters,  friends of mine. So, you know, we would all skate after school. We would all come home. Sometimes my best friend who was skating with me they’d sleepover … you know, they would just come to our house and we would all nap or whatever. But at that point, my two oldest brother’ had left to play Junior Hockey, so it was just my younger brother, who was older than me, but my dad was around, you know. So it was nothing for her. And I remember, you know, just the visions of her. The music box used to be way up in the roof, like hanging in this little box, and she’d sit up there and knit and I’d skate all night.

And it’s interesting because as an adult, now I look back and I think of the years that I used to train by myself. You know, even prior to Olympics because there was no one …well Charlene was competing. But we were always kind of on a different schedule somehow. I don’t know why. But I remember I used to go to the Ottawa Civic Center, which was our big rink in those days and we have an NHL rink now. But they used to give me free ice and sometimes my coach couldn’t make. So I literally would train by myself and I would do it.

Like, I look back and I go, “wow, where did that come from?” I kind of shocked myself as an adult going, “that’s pretty impressive Liz!”

AM: It is! It’s very impressive. You know, some kids don’t have that kind of discipline.

EM: They don’t today which is, you know … but it’s all the distractions in the world, right? We didn’t have those in those days, right? There were no computers. There were no cell phones. There was nothing like that. Right? You did sport. That’s what you did!

AM: You skated or you read.

EM: Exactly, exactly. [laughs]

AM: Well, your father was in the military. So you were used to discipline and schedules, I’m sure growing up. And because of your dad’s career, you moved to Ottawa, as you mentioned, at age 9. And that’s where you met Bob McEvoy, who trained you to be Canadian Champion. Can you tell me about him?

EM: He … you know, he’s not with us anymore, which you know, that’s why I’m kind of going like this [hand gestures on Zoom]. When we first moved to Ottawa, you know, I just came from this small town and you know, knew I loved skating. But that was when I really saw skating was about because I could move to a bigger city, right? Yeah. So know when I moved to Ottawa, you know, we met Bob and it was interesting because I had just come from this whole Trenton scene, right where I was growing up.

And within about six months of him teaching me, that’s when he said, “I can make your daughter into a champion.” And instead of the typical mother’s reaction of like, “oh my God, really?” she was like, “that’s great! Babysitting again!” Because he said he was going to just take over my life, right? And she lit up because she’s like, “oh, this is great babysitting. Take her!” You know?

And during that first time with him, that first year, I went through a lot. That’s when my parents got divorced. My mom was back in the workforce after raising four children. It was a real struggle. A real, real struggle. And so Bob used to pick me up at 6:00 in the morning. We would skate before school. He would drive me to school, pick me back up at school. I’d skate all afternoon. Take me to off-ice. Back to the rink. So he was, you know, literally he took over kind of that father role in my life. And it was really hard when, you know, he left me because at the time when he left me I didn’t know why he was leaving me. And now today I can tell you that, you know, he was diagnosed with AIDS. He loved me so much, he didn’t want me to go through it.

So he made up this excuse about, “you know, I’m not good enough to take you to an Olympics.” And at this point, you know, I was already a Senior lady. I had already been to Nationals, and I’m like, “you took me from this little girl in a small town, within about three years, you’ve got me at Nationals of my own country,” right? So the whole concept of him feeling like he wasn’t good enough to teach me, I didn’t buy.

So that was when all my problems started, you know, because I was in this place where I thought everybody was leaving me; my Dad, my brothers were off playing hockey, my Mom was struggling. Now my coach, who was like a father to me, was leaving me. So that’s when the whole mental health thing started to really fall apart.

AM: And did he live long enough to see you at the Olympics?

EM: So, when I won the Medal in Calgary, I hadn’t seen him. It had been years. It was just … there was no communication. And we didn’t even really know where he was or what was going on. And when he was coaching me, every competition he always gave me yellow roses. I loved yellow roses. I don’t know what it was, but in those days, I just love yellow roses. So I’d always get yellow roses from him.

So after, you know, winning the medal in Calgary, I had to go to Canada House for the big celebration. And then I was whisked off out of Canada House to do some other media appearances because no one had a story on me! And somebody came up to my Mom and me at the Canada House and said, “somebody’s outside and wants to see you.” And so my Mom and I worked our way to the front. It was a real house that they had rented, right?

And all I saw was two legs and a massive bouquet of yellow roses. And I hadn’t seen yellow roses in so long, right, because I wasn’t with him anymore! And then the roses moved, and he was there.

AM: That’s darling.

EM: Yeah, so he did see me and he passed away not long after that. But you know what? I am so blessed that he was still alive when that happened. So I’ll never forget it. It was just such an emotional moment. I’ve always said this, Allison, that, you know, there would be no Elizabeth Manley without Bob McEvoy, and there’d be no Elizabeth Manley without the city of Ottawa. Everything that, you know, the embracing of support and love and anything they can do for me, you know, was just … it was what I needed. Especially during that time, four years before Calgary when I went through the depression and the anxiety and I quit skating because skating was the reason.

It was a great moment and, you know, and Peter and Sonya Dunfield were amazing. I love them! And I had so much trust in them. And when Bob left me, I just didn’t know if I was going to regain that that kind of closeness with somebody again, but I did with Peter and Sonya. So it worked out well.

And inbetween then of course … Skate Canada … you had gotten so proficient as a skater that Skate Canada wanted you to move away to Lake Placid. And then you were with Emmerich Danzer for a while. And that was where things … where a lot of the items started to unravel because you know, Bob McEvoy had to go, and you were moved away, and everything was just hitting it once.

Yeah. It just compounded into just so many things. And Emmerich didn’t speak great English, and I didn’t have a lot of friends in Lake Placid because I was the girl from that other country, you know, and they all had their little clique, right? And and I lived with a woman who was never home, and I lived in her attic of all things!

And yeah, it just … things just started to unravel. But the interesting thing about it was I didn’t see it and I didn’t realize it because I was trained to keep everything inside! Like “don’t talk about feelings, don’t talk about that,” you know? I always say this to people, you know, in those days it was, “take your tears out to the parking lot. Suck it up buttercup. Get back out there.” You know? It was like … and no blame on anybody in any way. But I guess being so young and feeling all these changes in my life — not being home, being away from what I knew and what I, you know, grew up in — it was too much.

And that’s when, by the time I called my Mom about it — because we weren’t even allowed to call! It was so expensive to call another country, right? — I had lost half my hair and gained about 45 pounds of water retention. And that was when my Mom packed me up and brought me home. And she blamed herself for everything. But I was numb. I was in such a dark place.

And it’s not that I didn’t love skating. It’s just that it became a job, right? You know, I think when I was taken away from home and, you know, so many people had left me in my life at this point, and I was just taking it all on. I was taking it all inside and I was, you know, I was skating to please everybody.

That was a huge lesson for me to learn and to work out. And, you know, having that time off and then diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and literally a nervous breakdown, it gave me that time to kind of figure things out. And I’m not going to lie to you Allison, because I’m very open about it, but, you know, the night that we knew we couldn’t afford help — because in those days there was such a little out there! I was too scared to go on drug therapy because it was so experimental still in those days, as well as if I did ever want to go back to skating, I couldn’t take stuff, right? — so you can imagine every you know, every possible avenue had a roadblock. And so the avenue we ended up picking that day was heal myself. We didn’t know what else to do, right?

And that was the night that I went through what many teens go through, you know, and it didn’t go into the book and I was upset it didn’t go in the book because a lot of the story was missing out the book. And I said to them, you know, “why is a lot of my story missing?” And they said, “because people just aren’t ready for it.” Because the stigma of mental health was, you know, it was very taboo in the 80s.

AM: Yeah, it wasn’t really discussed or talked about or anything.

EM: Exactly. And that’s why they call me the pioneer of mental health in Canada as far as athletes because I was at first one to really try to open up about it and break the doors open with it. But it was brushed under the carpet because people knew the stigma and people just weren’t ready. But you know, eventually I  went for that help. But that night, everything went through my head. I remember thinking “why am I living?” You know, I’d had those suicidal thoughts because I thought I had let everybody down. I thought I had disappointed everybody. I didn’t think I was ever going to come back from this. And looking in the mirror — bald, completely overweight, couldn’t get my skates on I had so much water retention — so those thoughts were there. And I’m just so thankful that I didn’t go through with anything, that I actually … somebody reached out to, you know, to offer me help and offered me help free!

And, you know, and that’s kind of the fairytale story, right? Four years later … I worked with this man in thousands of sessions over four years right up to Calgary. And the interesting thing is I’d say about 70% of all my depression and nervous breakdown had nothing to do with skating. It was so much more. It was, you know, being alone. Feeling the pressure of trying to please everybody because everybody was giving up so much for me. We weren’t a rich family in any way! My mom struggled. And so once who I was able to work out … I was like a floodgate of emotions. Once I had this ability that it’s okay to talk anything you want, I was like, whoa, okay!

AM: Floodgates are open!

EM: Yeah, four years worth, right? But it taught me so much about me. You know? That whole experience. So the biggest question I get is, “would you ever turn the clocks back? Would you ever change it? Would you have not gone to the States?” And, you know, I have to say I would never change the clocks back because, you know, it’s made me the person I am today and I have this new career now as a life coach and it’s like everything just kind of rolled into a new passion for me and that’s for working with people. And I don’t think I would have that passion if I hadn’t walked the talk and been there.

AM: Totally. And are you able to enjoy Lake Placid now?

EM: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah, because I can look at it in a different way now, right? I’m this whole way of life now that I truly believe … you know, my mother used to say this since I was a baby and I used to get so mad at her and she’d always say, “everything happens for a reason.” And I would be like, “why is this happening for a reason? Explain to me what this is!” When I was bald and everything, right? She was like, “Honey, I don’t know, but everything in life happens for a reason. I truly believe in it.” And I used to get mad because she’d always say it, right? But it always seemed like I’d hit another roadblock. I’d hit another roadblock. I’d hit another. And I’d look at her angrily and say, “why do you keep saying that everything’s happening for reason?”

But that night in Calgary, I stood on that podium and I remember hearing those words. And I remember talking to myself on the podium going, “she was right. Everything happens for a reason.” And I think that’s what made me that resilient girl, to do what I did in night in Calgary, right? Because I was sicker than a dog in Calgary too!

AM: I know, and I was actually going to get to that! And you actually had been sick before! I was reading about how in 1981 at your first Senior Nationals you had Mono and didn’t know it. And of course, and as you alluded to before, you couldn’t take any medication because of the frequent drug testing. And then after your free skate, you collapsed on the ice and you had to get yourself off or else you were disqualified! So you still had to somehow …

EM: Yes! It just never seemed to go smoothly. [laughs]

AM: No, I’m reading through your career and I’m just thinking, “she had every obstacle thrown at her between money and germs, and …”

EM: Everything! And you know the World Championships after Olympics, my music broke down in my Short Program. And it was right before the combination jump. So in those days you had to start from the start! So I could start all over again, right? So it was like, “what else? What else can happen to me” right? But, you know, when little things happen to me now, it’s given me the ability to laugh things off. Now, because I’ve been through all that stuff, then Lord, help me I can get through anything!

AM: Pretty much, pretty much. So you did go to Peter and Sonya Dunfield. They approached you with an offer. You were off the ice, but they sought you out. They obviously saw something in you.

EM: They did. They saw me compete at Copenhagen Worlds in 1982. And I didn’t know them. And then it was 83 that I went through all this, you know, trauma. And I got a call from The Gloucester Skating Club here in Ottawa and they said, “there’s a couple here that wants to meet you there in the rink right now.” And I said who? And they said, “well, it’s a coaching team” and I went “well, they know I’m not skating anymore, right? Because I quit.” And they said, “you know what Liz, can you just come down and meet them? Because they drove from New York City.” And I went, “they drove?” And they said, yeah. I said, okay. And I’m fat and bald, and you name it, right? But I get in the car and I drive down there and walk in the rink and I see this couple sitting there and I said, “are you Peter and Sonya?” And they said, yes. And I said, “hi, I’m Elizabeth Manley. I used to be a figure skater. What can I do for you?” [laughs]

And I guess when I said that, Peter bursted out laughing, he says, “I knew I was going to love you.” Like this, right? And I said, “no, I’m being very serious.”

AM: How long had you been off the ice at that point?

EM: Um, probably like four months, maybe?

AM: That’s a good stretch of time.

EM: Yeah. That’s a good stretch. Yeah. And I mean, I was bald. Pretty much we had figured I was done, right? And so, the interesting thing and — I don’t know if Sonya will remember this— but I remember they said to me, will you give us a trial? And I said why? And they said, “you know what, we’ve seen you skate. We understand what you’re going through right now. But we feel that you have something in you that is such a great spirit for the sport, and we are willing to move here if you will give us a trial and get you back skating again.” And I said, “well, I’m not skating.” They said, “give us six months. And if you still don’t want to be on the ice and everything, then that’s it,” right? And six months later, I was getting the uniform for the Sarajevo Olympics.

AM: That’s incredible. I mean, the fact that they had enough — these two essentially strangers to you — had enough confidence in your ability to pick up and uproot their own lives …

EM: They did! Sons, toys, everything. They upgraded to another country! Just to teach me! And it was an interesting relationship because they brought me right back down back to basics. Like I remember …

AM: Right! They taught you how to relace your skates!

EM: Everything! Everything. They made me do single jumps for months. But I think it was … you know, when you’re going through depression and you’re going through, a lot of, mental health things and that, what you really need and you don’t want to admit, but what you really need is someone in your corner. You really need someone to say it’s going to be okay, and I got your back and let’s work together. And let’s see how you’re doing. Which is what I am trying to be today for people, right? And I think it was just feeling that unconditional love and support from them, and it just made me fall in love with skating again.

And I remember when we started, I made rules. And Peter said, okay. And I said, I don’t want any media around because of the way I looked. If I’m not having a good day up here [points to head], you know, you understand if I call and say, I can’t come in. Like I just … this is time to work on me and get to get me back. Right? And he says, we’re with you 100%. And I remember when I got that uniform from Sarajevo, you know, I was still fresh back on the scene. I remember Peter looked at me and he said, “well,” he goes, “Congratulations.” He says, “you’re going to your first Olympics and he said, and I have to ask you though …it’s six months. What do you think?” I said, “I’ll keep you.” [laughs]

AM: [laughs]

EM: Those were my exact words! I’ll keep you! So yeah, there’s a lot of incredible people that are standing behind me through, you know, so much. And then there’s the people that you think are going to be there for you and they’re not. So it was, you know, it was really dealing with a real — what’s the word I’m looking for? — it was dealing with something that was really awful and powerful; mental health. And it was so new in the world. In the 80s, you know, when you heard mental health, you put your people in straitjackets. That’s where your head went. Right? And that’s why people were so scared of me. When I went to that Nationals before I quit, people … they were scared of me. I was 3/4 bald. I was overweight. They didn’t understand. So when people don’t understand, they avoid.

AM: Right. Yeah. People are definitely fearful of what they don’t know.

EM: Right. And that was hard on me, you know? I would walk down a hallway at a rink and people would go into dressing rooms, because … you know? Even kids my age thought it was contagious or something, right? We’ve come a long way.

AM: We absolutely have come a long way. When you see Naomi Osaka, or some of the other athletes — Simone Biles — and they say,”look my mental health is more important.” It’s even, even now there’s still some resistance to it, but a whole lot more acceptance.

EM: And that’s why since 1988 I have been, you know, here in Canada, I’m such a huge advocate for mental health. I do so much work for it. And I just got hired by Carleton University, which is a huge university here. So they’ve just hired me to be on their psychology team to work with students and to work within the mental health field, right? Even though I don’t have a degree in Psychology, I’m a certified life executive.

AM: You lived it!

EM: And that’s exactly what they said. You know, I’ve lived it. And if you live in Ottawa, you know who I am. It’s a little scary, but I’m just really trying to put myself out there to help people.

AM: Sure. Well, that’s wonderful. And you were one of the first athletes at least that was known to work with a sports psychologist back in the day. And I think Brian Orser also was working with a psychologist. So Skate Canada was clearly okay with their athletes having this assistance.

EM: Absolutely. And this is where I am today right now. Like, I’m trying to break in to work with some NHL teams. Because, you know, when you look at professional athletes or athletes in general, the sport psychology is great because what it’s doing is really helping you in that performance situation. And that’s really what I needed, because I was one of those skaters that was always so nervous, right? And so that, you know, I was faithful on working with that, but I continued working with my own psychologist, you know, to deal with my life, right? Because my life affected my career. And this is what I’m trying really hard to do right now is to try to break into one of these pro teams and say, “listen, you know, I know for a fact there’s a million NHL players that bring a lot of crap on the ice with them. And they’re not willing to talk about it. They’re not willing to say it because they’re ‘tough hockey players.’ They’re big guys, you know?” And all the teams are saying, “we’ve got sports psychology and got all that intact.”

And I’m like, “but who’s there for them that’s dealing with, you know, their wife doesn’t want to move during the trade? My wife, just had a baby and I’m on a 10 road game.” Who’s helping these these athletes with the ‘The Life’ part of their lives, right? Like Carey Price … you look at what’s going on with him, right? The best goaltender that’s ever existed in the NHL, and he’s taken three months off and he’s gone into the program for mental health reasons.

And this is the thing: you look at people like Elizabeth Manley, or you look at people like Carey Price or Simone Biles, and you go, “they’ve got the perfect life. These huge celebrities, they’re champions.” And you know, you’re a skater  … there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know.

AM: 1000%. Yeah.

EM: Absolutely. And I’ve really tried to push that into these these sporting worlds saying, “let me be that girl that they can turn to.” Like right now I’m working with 35 police officers. So these cops call me on the way home, and they’re like, “oh my God, we had a suicide today,” or “we had this and I’ve got to go home, you know, my little babies are going to … I’m distraught.” So I talk them through how to be normal at home, and not bring the job home, and deal with their own emotions through this, right?

AM: So it’s such a necessary thing you’re providing. It’s amazing.

EM: Thank you. Thank you, and I’m loving it. I’m absolutely loving it.

AM: Well, great. When I … when I was reading your book and your history, I do think you were fortunate that you did have just so many people in your corner who were willing to step up. I mean, I was reading about how even Toller Cranston at one point stepped up for you to help you with the media after 1987 Worlds. You’d had a very rough long program. You’d been skating really well up to that point. And you were in the bathroom … you flew off the ice and went straight to the locker room and avoided the cameras. And he kind of ushered you through it.

EM: Yep, put his arm around me. And you know, I was a blubbering fool because I thought I had just ruined my chances of ever winning an Olympic medal because it was the Worlds before Calgary and the goal was to get on that podium before Calgary. And yeah, it was, you know, one of those moments that you just kind of go, “WTF? What happened? I haven’t missed a jump all week in practice. I haven’t fallen. I was perfect in the Short.” I was like, “what happened?” But all the other experiences I’d been through taught me how to work through those kind of moments, right? It taught me something. And that’s what I try to relay. I just did a skating club Zoom meeting with a whole group of skaters. And, you know, it’s like you’re not going to be perfect every day. But it’s how do you handle that? Are you just going to give throw your arms up and give up? Or are you going to say, no, I know what I did wrong. And I’m going to make it better next time.

AM: It’s the journey, not the destination. Yeah.

EM: Absolutely. Don’t take a trip, take the journey.

AM: Well, and then before the Calgary Olympics, the Ottawa paper sadly decided to write a really scathing article about your mental health issues, which was not kind of them.

EM: No. It was …. because I wasn’t doing any media for my own mental health. Because it was a juicy story.

AM: Yeah, it was easy. It was an easy out.

EM: Yeah, it was an easy story for media. And you know, when the article came out, they got a lot of quotes from people who I thought were supporters of mine, right? And some of the quotes were [that] I was a waste of money and because I suffered from mental health, I was never going to be strong enough to ever win a medal in Olympics. And this is like two weeks before Calgary in writing saying because I suffered from mental health, I wasn’t going to be strong enough to ever bring the country home a medal. And so that threw me for a loop. I didn’t show up to the rink for three days. That’s how distraught I was over this article. But I learned how to turn it and make myself mad, and prove to people. So maybe, you know, it was just that kick in the pants I needed, or that adrenaline.

And then something that probably didn’t read in the book is that as soon as I got home from Calgary — I don’t know if it was in the book or not, it’s been so long — they asked me not to go to Worlds. So Skate Canada said, don’t go to Worlds. And I, you know, we flat-out said, why would you not want me to go to Worlds? And they said, “because we really think Olympics was a fluke. And you need to take the medal and run.” Those were the exact words.

AM: Wow. So after all those years of support, support, support and then they said …

EM: Yeah. “It was a fluke. You better take the medal and run and make something off it.” Right? And you know, there was a lot of money to be made in those days! I come from the 80s, right? It’s not like you got $50 a show! But it was another situation where I was distraught for about 24 hours and then I turned it into, I’ll show them.

AM: I’m glad that you did show them ultimately! And I hope that they did … someone at Skate Canada gave you an apology eventually for it. Here’s hoping.

EM: Not really. I don’t ever really remember that. But, you know, the thing is, is back in those days, you know, it was a tough group, that was running Skate Canada. They were very diligent and very, you know. And I look at Skate Canada today, and it’s a totally different organization. We’ve got great people in there. And I think that’s why our skaters here are doing so well, you know, for Canada right now and it’s like, I think it was just kind of like old school skating back then. It was very sport sport sport, you know? Where as now the focus is on the athlete now and the focus is what can we do for them to to help them in any way through this journey and stuff, right?For a organization that, you know, I raised a lot of eyebrows kind of exposing on some things … it’s not like that anymore. So, it’s good here.

AM: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about Calgary. There’s so much to dig into there! Because it … first of all, as if you weren’t struggling enough with nasty paper articles and your own mental health, you ended up sick with the flu! And you weren’t allowed to take any medication, of course again, because of drug testing. You got worse once you arrived in Calgary, and your fever spiked after the short program. And I know Caryn Kadavy was in the same boat.

EM: Yes, and she pulled out. She pulled out. And with mine, you know, I never knew if it was the same as what Caryn had. We’ve often actually … Caryn and I toured together and everything and we often talked about that. For me, I think it was a mental breakdown again. Like, it was emotional after the article in the paper, and I just felt like, why am I even bothering? Like, I really believe the whole world felt this way about me. And so, I think mine was just my body broke down because I was so emotionally upset and it just, you know, kind of crashed. But I remember after the short program, I was sitting in third and my fever spiked. And we had the day off between the Short and the Free (well, in those days, we called it the Long). And they wanted to pull me out.

Yeah, and I remember crying and I said, “please just let me have my day off, you know, and let’s see how I feel. I’m in third place.” And they said, “but we’re concerned you’re not going to be able to get through it with how sick you are.” Right? So the next day is when I went to practice and … was this in the book about the hockey team?

AM: I love this! Yes it is. Please tell this story. This story is amazing!

EM: It’s amazing. So, I get out on practice and Peter says to me, “okay.” So they had planned a meeting at 1:30 in the Saddledome to make the decision if I was going to continue to skate. Not many people know the story! Even my teammates. I don’t think Brian knows really what went on, right?

And so when I got on the ice, Peter said, “we’re just going to stroke. We’re going to sweat you, right?” And he says, “no jumps. No spin. It’s your day off, and let’s just see how you feel.” And he said, “but we got to make the decision after practice. If you feel, you know, if you honestly feel, you can’t get through the Long program, you know, because you’re so sick, then we have to make this decision.” And it was because the media had a 4:00 deadline.

So I had to make a decision before their immediate deadline. So I get on on practice, and ten minutes into practice, the entire [Canadian] Olympic hockey walked in. And when I say they walked in, they walked in on the other side of the ice into the player’s benches. And I remember going, “why are they here? Hockey players don’t go to figure skating practices!” It seemed weird, right?

And they were all sitting on the bench. There were a couple guys taping a stick, but the coach was just standing behind him. No one was talking to each other. Coach was just, you know, being coach. And I looked at Peter, and I said, “why are they here?” And I knew it was a Canadian team because they have their Canadian uniforms on, right?

And I remember Peter — as if he’s talking to a typical teenage girl — he’s like, “can we concentrate? You know?

AM: It is the Olympics after all! Can you focus please? [laughs]

EM: It’s just, “I’m so sick that even the Olympic hockey team not doing anything for me right now, but I’m just curious why they’re here.” And, of course, my remark was, “and Katarina’s not even on the ice.” Like like I did one of those, right? [Liz looks behind her on camera looking for Katerina] And so, he said, “let’s just focus.” So I did another 20 minutes. We were just stroking and he said, “okay, you and I were going to meet outside the locker room and we’ll talk before we go upstairs for the meeting.”

And that’s when I came off the ice, and I saw the hockey team going out the back door to a bus. And as I came around the corridor, the only person in the corridor was the hockey coach. And and that’s when he walked up to me. And I said, hello, I’m Elizabeth Manley and he says, “I know exactly what you are” and he’s smiling. And he said, I said, “Thank you. Thank you so much for coming to support me on my Olympic practice.”

And I said, “but you got my curiosity going like, why were you here?” And he said, “Elizabeth, the team’s waiting for me on the bus.” He said, “we play Russia tonight. We were practicing next door and when we were getting off, I felt the best thing I could do for the team was to come make them watch a champion.” And I literally, Allison, I did [looks over her shoulder] I was looking for Debi Thomas, I was looking for children. Looking for anybody. Right? Who are you talking to like this, right? Because I had just been beaten up for the last four years, right? And he kind of hit me on the shoulder. He said, “thank you for inspiring my team. Knock them dead tomorrow” and he walked away.

And that was the moment that when Peter came around the corner. It was funny because I was bent over. And I just remember garbage pail coming underneath me. And I looked up and it was Peter. He thought I was throwing up, because I was bent over! And I said, “call the meeting off.” And he said, “what do you mean?” And I said, “call the meeting off. No matter what, I’m competing tomorrow.”

And it was, this is where … this is the story that I really use when I do my speaking engagements because it’s the power of words, right? I didn’t know this man from a hole wall. And in four sentences, he changed my entire confidence. What I was feeling, how I was thinking people were perceiving me. And I remember Peter saying, “what just happened?” And I said, you know, “I’ll tell you later. Right now, I’m not going upstairs. You go up and tell them I’m competing.” And then the rest is history. Right?

AM: Right! Right.

EM: And I only got, for the first time in my life … I think it’s six years ago now. I was giving a keynote speech to 500 of Canada’s top coaches in every sport. It was at their leadership thing. And they asked me to be the keynote speaker for the breakfast. And it was 500 coaches in every sport. So, I was like, oh my God, right? I’m really nervous. Right? These are all my peers, right? And when I got got to that part of my story. The girl jumped up on stage as she interrupted me. And I went. “Oh, yeah. I’m just getting to the story.” Right?

She says, “I’ve heard you speak and I just need you to turn around.” And the hockey coach was Skyped in on the screen behind me! I didn’t know! He’s Dave King. He’s now the GM for Phoenix Coyotes and he was crying. He had no idea! He had no idea that he had changed my entire journey of my life, right? Because I don’t know if I would have pulled out! I was five minutes from maybe pulling out the Olympics. And it was the power of his words. And that was the first time I got to see him, to thank him. I was crying. 500 coaches were crying! Like it was just it was one of those moments like, oh my God …

AM: Now you’re making me cry! The power of positivity.

EM: It really is. It’s the power of positivity. It’s the power of words. Yeah, you know how words can really hurt somebody right? Or they can really change someone’s life. Right?

AM: Right. It’s so true. Well, and, and one of the other things that I think is fascinating about Calgary, of course, is that you were, in a way, ignored by the Press. Because even though, obviously, they’d written this article about you, but the Press was so focused on the “Battle of the Carmens” between Debi and Katerina …

EM: And the Brians!

AM: Right! And the Battle of the Brians on the Mens side! So in a way you were able to get your wish and slip away from the media and slip into the … under the wire.

EM: And that was, you know, partial my doing. Because every time I felt like I was doing an interview, they wanted to talk about my depression because it was good story. Right? And I was just tired of … like “I’m in a good place. I don’t want to revamp it, right? Because I want to focus on positivity and how I am” and things like that and it just wasn’t happening. Going into Calgary, I had no press, right? It was just like a little girl from Canada. And even in Canada, all the eggs were in the basket for Tracy Wilson, and Rob McCall and Brian [Orser]. The Pairs or the Ladies, we weren’t really in that expectations. Right?

AM: Right. The expectations were low.

EM: Yeah, and then I came out and kind of blew the roof off! Even to the point where …  was it? Somebody told me that after I skated, it was like, metal stands, right, in the Saddledome, and everybody was banging their feet after I skated. So it was like eruption! And it took the judges so long to put my marks out because they didn’t know what to do! I was not supposed to do what I did! So now they’re like in their mind, they’re trying to figure out how do we keep somebody on the Gold, and how do we Debi’s …? And they were all confused. They still had Debi to skate.

Somebody told me that when it took so long for the marks to come out and the stands were so loud, that Katerina came flying out of a bathroom because she thought I’d won! And she knocked, like she ran into somebody ebcause she was so panicked that she had just lost, right?

AM: Well, and you did beat her in the free skate! I mean, that’s the thing! And my understanding — correct me if I’m wrong — but the only standing ovations that night were for you and Midori Ito.

EM: Uh-huh. And, you know, I lost by one tenth of a mark. That’s all I lost by. And you know, you can imagine there’s a million people that dissected that competition, right? Because everybody said, oh you should have won. But where it ended up happening was if Midori had have been put second in the Free, or even first, you know, because deservingly she had all these triples and everything like that … if she had been first or second in the Free, I would have won.

AM: Yeah. Such was the 6.0 system.

EM: Yes. So but I lost by one tenth of a point. And it was funny because my Canadian judge — can’t remember his name at the time, but he retired after Olympics — he kind of took the blame on himself a little bit, because he was scared of bias Judging right? So he kind of gave me a lower score on the technical. And if you look at the kiss and cry, you can see Peter going, “how did that happen? Why the Canadian judge?” And I remember that moment because he’s like, “The Canadian judge gave you one of the lowest marks!” But in those days, you know, they were worried about being biased for their own countrymen. Right?

AM: Right.

EM: I’m all good! [laughs] I won a medal! I beat them in the free skate! You know what, I’m not going to worry about who gave what mark.

AM: I mean, you know, nothing to sneeze at! I have heard you say that you consider this not as an Olympic silver, but a life gold. Which I think is key.

EM: Yeah, right. And I do that a lot. I speak to over 1,000 schools; high schools, and middle schools and all that. And that’s when I show my medal I’m like … you know, I don’t have it hanging up.

AM: I was about to say, you don’t have it like protected?

EM: No, look! It’s like sitting here in a bag! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it.

AM: Look at that! Is that the original ribbon or did you at least get a spare ribbon?

EM: No. So you can see this … this actually broke off my medal because I was using it for speaking so much. And it broke one day. So we got a new ribbon, a new kind of thing put on it right at a jewelry store.

AM: You need to get that insured if it’s not already.

EM: I know, I know. Well, but I have some interesting thought about my medal and I’ll get into that. But you know, I tell the kids, this medal is wrapped up or made of, “you’re not good enough. You come from a small town. You’re not popular like a Katarina Witt. You’re fat. You’re this.” It’s all that wrapped up in this one medal. And it’s a medal that no one expected. And, you know, I, I also was told for so many years because of mental health, I was never going to be strong enough to win and everything. So, you know, that’s what I talked about with the medal. I said, that’s what this medal’s made up of. And for my family, it’s a gold medal in life. You know, it’s persevering. It’s resilience. It’s getting through probably 100 different times when most people would have just thrown their hands up and walked away, right? So that’s why I call this a medal in life.

There’s been sides of me because, you know, I’m getting older. And I’m starting to clean out. I think I gave Skate Canada six rubber bins of magazines from the 70s that I was in, and things like that, right? And I’m such a huge mental health advocate that, you know, I think as I get older, instead of just passing away and leaving the medal, you know, I’m trying to think of how can I auction it to raise money for children’s mental health.

AM: Wow. Really? You’d be willing to part with it?

EM: I would be. And, you know, somebody years and years ago said to me, you know, “if somebody offered you a million dollars for your medal, would you sell it?” And I went, “yeah.” And they’re like, “what?” And I’m like, “I own the title. I forever own the title.” And it’s a medal. But I’m looking at it now, Allison, where can my medal do some good now? Could I do this? You know, we have this Children’s Hospital here that since the pandemic, the children … they’re in a mental health crisis with children.

AM: All over the place. Yeah.

EM: Yeah. And I’ve been thinking, “what if I did this massive auction? A picture with me. Maybe this picture up here in the wall. They get my medal … like this whole thing. And we can raise a couple hundred thousand dollars?”

AM: Love it. Absolutely love it.

EM: And have it, go to the children for their mental health and things like that. So, you know, I haven’t done it yet, but the thought has been, you know … And I know my brothers say, “you can’t get rid of that medal. You can’t do that!” But there’s something in me that, you know, I want that medal to mean something when I’m gone. Whether they even have it hanging in the hospital, you know, as part of raising a tremendous amount of money for the children. I don’t know. Something, just kind of like my mind’s been doing this. And of course, it’s a no subject with my husband. He’s like, “we’re not getting rid of that, right?” [laughs]

AM: You can’t take it with you though!

EM: So, right, and instead of it just ending up in, you know, maybe a my niece’s daughter’s drawer. You know, could I could I do something with this that could be really giving back? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to like process it in my mind. But I own the title!

AM: I think that’s tremendous that you’re wanting to leverage the physical attribute, you know, the physical award to further the cause because, yeah, you’re correct.

EM: Yeah, you know this pandemic has been so tough on people. And you can imagine me with my clients, right? I got a lot of clients because of the pandemic. Uncertainties. Fear. Losing their jobs. Whatever it might be. So you’re the first person I’ve ever told that to!

AM: I’m so honored! [laughs]

EM: It’s not like, you know, I said, my husband, I said, I would probably do like a split on the money, right? Because I have a dream of opening up my own business. So maybe … and a business for …

AM: What about a foundation that lives in perpetuity?

EM: Yes!

AM: And then you can have a Gala every year and, you know, auction off skate with Liz Manley! I’m just spitballing.

EM: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. And, you know, I just gave five free life coaching sessions for an option for the Royal Ottawa, which is our mental health facility here. So, you know, I try to do as much as I can do, because you know, I always say this: “you never know there could be an Elizabeth Manley somewhere in this city sitting on the side of their bed just giving up on life.” Right?

AM: Right. Absolutely.

EM: How could we change that? Right?

AM: I feel like any other question I would ask you would be really so trivial compared to that! I just, I think it’s been tremendous how you’ve been able to leverage your own pain and suffering in such a positive way. And I am very glad for you that you were able to have that moment on the podium where you were … to have that realization that, “this is why.” You know. “My mother was right.”

EM: She was right. And, you know, I … talking to you today right now, I’ve been through tremendous amount of hardship again. Losing my Mom. My Dad. My first marriage. Financial stability. Like a lot of, you know, traumatic things have happened to me.

AM: Adulting. Adulting is hard.

EM: I’ve actually said to people, you know, for how passionate I am about the world today and making people feel accepted and wanted and all these different areas, right? Whether it’s racial, LGBTQ, whatever it might be. I want everybody to feel we’re all together. We all love each other, all support each other. But I’ve said to somebody the other day, I said, “I believe that this amazing career that I’ve had has actually led me to a bigger passion.” Does that make sense?

AM: 100%

EM: Yeah, I can look back at skating and you know be appreciative because I wouldn’t be doing what I’m loving right now if I hadn’t had all that experience. And so I kind of look at it as, I thought Olympics was the Pinnacle! Like this was it! But I see it, you know, it’s been a journey in my life, right? It’s just been that stepping stone to where I am now. So I can smile now and I can be appreciative for all those years. And  a lot of people say to me, “were you angry? You didn’t win the gold?” And I’m kind of like, no, I’m not. I’m not at all. I’m appreciative. I’m grateful, right? It took me a long time to get there. It really did. You know, it’s like it was it’s own journey in its own way, right? But now I’m more grateful today for things.

AM: I think that’s amazing and I’m thrilled that you could share that with me. And I want to say thank you so much for spending so much time with me on a Saturday, sharing your journey with me. And I’m glad I could be a teeny tiny part of it.

EM: Thank you!

AM: And that’s the end of another episode of the Manleywoman SkateCast. So many manleys! Thank you for listening. I’m so thrilled to be back and I look forward to capturing more voices in the skating world for you. Until next time, may you get yellow roses from your favorite people. May you believe that everything happens for a reason and that your mother was right! And because, Elizabeth Manley was a table to avoid doing it herself while surrounded by Carmens, never skate to Carmen. Bye-bye.

About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

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