Back on her blades

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Out of the sport for two years, Alysha Gjos thought she was done with figure skating for good. But as Gabriel Lee reports, Gjos has dominated the competition since returning to the ice for the Rams

A day before leaving for Waterloo, Ont. to compete in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) figure skating finals, a few members of the Ryerson Rams figure skating team huddled around a small laptop. On the brightly lit screen, was Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette, who was performing her inspiring skate shortly after her mother’s death at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The outcome: a bronze medal.

While none of the Rams had to overcome something that tragic, Alysha Gjos, 20, had a few hurdles of her own to clear on her way to winning a gold medal at the OUA’s figure skating finals.

At the beginning of the season, Gjos had not skated competitively for more than two years. Her previous school, Fanshawe College, didn’t have a figure skating team. Gjos, now the reigning provincial champion, wasn’t even going to try out for the figure skating team until her friend Tori Prouse, who skates for the University of Toronto, convinced her to dust off her skates and give it one last shot.

“I thought about not coming back to the rink after the first couple practises because I didn’t have any of my jumps,” said Gjos. “Looking back at the season I kind of laugh. It’s hard to believe I’ve come from falling on some very basic skating moves to where I am now.”

It wasn’t until watching the first competition of the year, the Queen’s fall invitational, that she realized she could still compete at a competitive level. She placed fourth at the competition, the lowest she would finish all year.

“I was the first one to go, and I didn’t have the greatest skate,” said Gjos. “Then I saw all the other skaters go and I knew that if I could get back in shape I could beat all of them. That’s when I knew I could win OUA’s.”

Two months later, Gjos took the silver medal at the Winter Invitational held at the University of Toronto.

Just when Gjos was getting back into a steady routine, she was hit with a sinus infection. The cold affected both her sense of balance and timing on her jumps. Because of this, she had only had one healthy practise in the month before attending the OUA finals.

Her illness was a big reason she wanted to use Rochette’s skate as a motivational tool for herself and the rest of the team. There were a lot of high expectations from her coach and her teammates to do well at the finals.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to perform … [but] I really enjoy working under pressure,” said Gjos.

Her first-place performance continued her incredible streak of winning a provincial title every year of her post-secondary career, even if it wasn’t in figure skating.

At Fanshawe College, she won national honours with their cross-country running team.

Gjos credits her mental toughness to competing in individual sports all her life.

“Horseback riding, skating and running have all been on my own,” she said. “That’s the funny thing a lot of people have asked me about the pressure of participating in individual sports but I haven’t really done team sports.”

Head coach Janean Bruhn has referred to the last three seasons of Ryerson skating as a rebuilding process since they haven’t had many strong individual skaters. In order to do well at competitions, you need individuals to accumulate points to win as a team she says.

Gjos is extremely pleased with the progress the team made this year, considering the team consists of mostly of athletes who are brand new to figure skating or have taken considerable time off from figure skating such as herself.

Ryerson won four medals at the finals enroute to finishing sixth out of eight teams. It was difficult for the Rams to place in the top three as a team because they didn’t have enough skaters to compete in the synchronized portion, a dance routine that requires 16 athletes.

She hopes the prospect of skating at Maple Leaf Gardens coupled with their success this year will attract more skaters to Ryerson.

“I think the lack of attention of attention to the skating program is saddening,” she said.

“I’m hoping because we have our own arena next year, not only us but the hockey team will get more support from the student body.”

Photo by: Joan-Marie Gjos

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