By Jake Romphf
Blood, sweat and tears. Through a fight with injuries and mental health struggles, that was Danna Ballantyne’s script to get to the Canada Winter Games.
Ballantyne, 16, will face the country’s best speedskaters between the ages of 14 and 19 when she represents Team Ontario at the Red Deer-held Games starting on Feb. 15. It’s her shot to prove that she can skate at the national level.
Ballantyne first signed up for speedskating after watching it during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Soon she shared the same sport as Olympic champion Clara Hughes, who like her, shares a history of struggling with mental health.
In her early teens, Ballantyne was hospitalized for close to a month to recover from severe depression and anxiety.
“Skating sort of took a different meaning for me after that. It wasn’t so much about winning, it was more like rehab and getting healthy exercise in my life,” she said.
During Ballantyne’s recovery, Hughes reached out to her and sent her a shirt. To this day, Ballantyne wears it while she’s training, to remind her of what she’s capable of overcoming.
Another test – this time physical – almost cost Ballantyne her spot in the upcoming Games.
During a practice at the start of her season she suffered a collision that left her with 14 stitches in the back of her thigh. The injury forced her to rein in her training just as she was about to start her first year of competition in the Canada Cup circuit of races, but it wouldn’t stop her.
“I’m one of those people who absolutely loves the pain of training and I get a total high off that,” she said.
Ballantyne’s wound healed enough to compete. But after a disappointing 51st place finish, she remembers crying on the way home. Yet simply being able to race again was huge for Ballantyne as a means of overcoming her mental and physical obstacles. “When I’m in the race, everything is just quiet,” she said.
To secure a Team Ontario spot, Ballantyne needed a strong showing at the provincial trials. She didn’t place in the top four, which would’ve automatically put her on the team, but she squeaked in by being selected by the Ontario Skating Association.
“All I can do now is train as hard as I can,” she told the Sportspage in January.
Connor Rogerson has been speedskating with the Ottawa Pacers since he was six years old. Now, the 19-year-old is getting his shot at representing Ontario at the Games.
Rogerson is a part of the University of Calgary’s Olympic Oval program. He trains up to seven times a week, and on a daily basis does a mix of on-ice, dry land and weight training. He said the program has improved his times and helped him qualify for the Canada Cup.
In the trials for the Games’, Rogerson struggled and even fell in one race. With one race to go, Rogerson was in 4th place overall and needed a strong finish to secure his spot with Team Ontario.
“That race was super exciting,” he recalls.
Rogerson fell into the second position off the starting line, directly behind a skater who would take his 4th place spot if Rogerson finished outside of the top two. The Pacers-made skater erased that possibility by finishing in 2nd place to secure his spot on the provincial team.
“That was an exciting moment after we passed the finish line and I realized I made the team,” he said.
Rogerson said he focuses on what he needs to do during a race.
“In short track, anything can happen,” he said. “You just have to be prepared for what happens and react accordingly.”