Elizabeth Manley – In February of 1988, Canadians throughout the country were watching the final round of the women’s singles figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics in Calgary. Before and throughout the games, the buzz was centered on which two skaters – Debi Thomas of the U.S. and defending Olympic champion Katerina Witt of East Germany – would win that coveted gold medal.
Somehow, throughout all that hype and media coverage, a pleasant surprise happened that not only delighted the figure skating world, but also all of Canada.
That came in the form of Elizabeth Manley, an experienced 22-year-old champion figure skater from Trenton, Ontario, who won a bronze at the 1982 World Junior Championships and a silver at the 1988 World Championships. While Thomas and Witt were battling it out for Olympic figure skating supremacy, Elizabeth rather stealthily went on to the ice at the Saddledome to perform her final routine. Her near flawless performance of that lively, energetic routine was met with a loud, thunderous ovation from the crowd that nearly blew the roof off the Saddledome.
The ovation grew even louder shortly afterwards when Elizabeth’s score from the judges was enough to earn her a surprising silver medal. In that instant, Elizabeth Manley became the Cinderella story of the Calgary Winter Olympics, and Canada’s Sweetheart at the same time. And no one could forget the indelible image of Elizabeth after she was awarded her medal, as she playfully took a bite out of it with a big smile on her face (by the way, Witt won her second consecutive gold medal, and Thomas won the bronze).
It was a dream come true for Elizabeth; however, her road to that silver medal in Calgary was not an easy one.
When she was 17, Elizabeth was training in Lake Placid, New York. She had a new coach and was living away from her home and family for the very first time. That began to take effect on her mental well-being. She became sad, scared and stressed out, and as a result, she began to gain weight and lose her hair. The following year, she decided to go back home to Ottawa, quit skating and fell into a deep depression, which led to feeling suicidal.
“At that time, I felt I let my parents and my country down, and that the world would be better without me,” said Elizabeth during a recent phone interview. “When I decided to open up about my struggle with depression during the 80s, the stigma surrounding it was still at its highest. People were saying why do I want to tell the world about depression, and they were not ready to hear about it. They still thought of me as the young figure skater wearing the pink dress and the cowboy hat.”
“When my autobiography Thumbs Up was published, I discovered that half of my story was missing. The publisher thought I was too open when I wrote about my struggle with depression, and didn’t leave a lot of details about it in the final manuscript,” she added.
One eye-opening experience she had regarding athletes and mental illness was with a conversation she had with Stephane Richer, who played with the Montreal Canadiens during their Stanley Cup championship season in 1986. “Stephane grew up in a generation when you were not allowed to express your feelings, because it was seen as a sign of weakness. It was basically if you had a problem, just ‘suck it up, buttercup and get back out there.’ I admired him for the long conversation we had about his struggles during that season. He told me that on the night the Canadiens won the cup, he was crying in his hotel room. He admitted it was the greatest and saddest night of his life because of the fear that enveloped him, in which he constantly asked himself ‘where do I go from here?’,” she said.
A fervent advocate for mental health, Elizabeth decided to pursue a career as a life coach, and got her certification through CTI, a professional life coaching certification course offered by the Coaching Academy.
“The course changed my life, and life coaching became my passion because I love speaking and helping people from all walks of life so that they can be the best they can be,” she said. “It is something that I was meant to do and I am so blessed to be a life coach. I love every minute of it.”
Her clients range in age from 14 to 78 years, and includes individuals and organizations, such as the Ottawa Police Association, in which she is helping 36 of its officers deal with how society looks at police officers these days, and helps them with their struggle of keeping the motivation to do their jobs on a daily basis.
On October 7, Elizabeth will be speaking at Carleton University as part of its online Psychology Mental Health Day observances. “The focus of my talk will deal with learning how to live with depression and anxiety,” she said. “Thanks to the pandemic, society has been feeling worn out, tired and angry; it’s like they lost the mojo in their lives. And because there have been too many restrictions imposed on them, people feel that they are giving up on the future, and that’s not a good place to be. If you want to take care of yourself, you have to love yourself.”
Elizabeth would also like to extend her life coaching services to help professional athletes, recognizing through her own experiences that pro sports is a mental game. “When I was suffering with depression, there were no resources available to me. I believe that if more athletes open the door and talk about their battles with mental health issues, there will be more resources available,” she said. “That’s why I couldn’t be more proud of Simone Biles. She had a lot to deal with, and she was brave enough to take and stand when she admitted she was not ready to compete during the Tokyo Olympics, and that helped to open up the conversation even more.”
“Sometimes fans don’t get it that gymnastics can be a dangerous sport. If a gymnast’s head is not in the game, they could end up being seriously injured. If their confidence is maintained, then their mentality is kept in check when they compete. And when they’re successful mentally, then they are in good shape,” she added.
To find out more about Elizabeth Manley’s services as a life coach, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.