Every so often a rare opportunity comes along to interview one of my own skating heroes and so far I've been incredibly fortunate enough to interview several - people like Brian Orser, Anita Hartshorn, Denise Biellmann and countless others I grew up watching compete as professionals that inspired me to get on the ice at a later age than most and achieve my goals as a teenage skater. There are few out there that inspired me more than Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley. The first time I ever watched her amazing free skate from the Calgary Olympics probably would have been on Debbi Wilkes' Ice Time show or something like that, but I remember just being in awe... but I was even more gobsmacked by the work she did as a professional. An incredibly versatile and animated performer who always brought music, programs and costumes to the table that made people stand up and take notice, Liz was (and is) an incredibly successful chameleon on the ice and certainly a crowd pleaser in every sense of the expression. I remember seeing her perform on tour at the Halifax Metro Centre and just being like - that's who I want to be like! I have to give huge thanks to Liz for taking the time to do this interview and to the equally fabulous PJ Kwong for hooking us up. Grab yourself a nice cup of coffee and get ready for a trip down memory lane with Canada's skating sweetheart! We talk about everything from Calgary to professional skating to bullying, teen mental health and reality cooking shows. You just can't go wrong and you know you're going to love it!:
Q: I hate to start by asking you a question you've been asked a million times before but I mean... countless professional titles, three Canadian titles, a silver medal at the World Championships, a silver medal at the Calgary Olympics, two books, a TV special, touring with Ice Capades, Tom Collins, Elvis Stojko's tour... you've just done SO much! What are your proudest moments and most special memories looking back now - in 2014?
A: I think the most memorable moments looking back are of course the Olympics but my life professionally was so much fun. I met so many amazing people and got to travel everywhere. I feel that the friendships I developed through the years... well let's say priceless!
Q: YOU are actually a huge part of the reason I started skating myself. Like many people, I was just glued to the TV watching all of these dozens of amazing professional competitions that cropped up after the whole Nancy/Tonya debacle. I remember seeing you skate in ONE competition to Luther Vandross' "The Impossible Dream", Natalie Cole's "This Can't Be Love" and 2Unlimited's "Are You Ready For This?" and absolutely NAILING each one of these programs which were completely different styles and having the audience completely in the palm of your hand. I knew that's what I wanted to do and it wasn't long after that I laced up. SO... I want to talk to you about your success as a professional skater mostly because that's one of the blog's main focuses - professional skating. First of all, how hard was transitioning from the "amateur" to the pro world for you?.
A: The transition at first was very hard because I wasn't used to the gruelling travel schedule and the thousands of shows but once I got used to it and got to skate to fun music and themes I fell in love with it. My greatest job and memory was playing Cinderella for Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades. I loved playing a role and I can truly say it was my most favourite time as a professional.
Q: I mentioned just a few of your many great programs but there are so many that I remember watching that I loved - "I Love You, Goodbye", "Cats", "Yebo", "Uninvited", "Legends Of The Fall"... I could go on and probably would. What program would you love to revise and skate to again, what program would you never skate again even if they paid you the big bucks and what program had a lot of potential that never really got realized?
A: I loved my "Legends Of The Fall" number. It was the passion I felt for the music and I matured so much with my artistry with this number. "Are You Ready For This?" Never again. I still watch the tapes and wonder how the hell did I ever get through that?! There isn't really any number that I felt could have been better. My choreographer David Gravatt did wonders with all them and I loved them all.
Q: Do you ever think we'll see professional competitions make a comeback? Should they?
A: (laughing) I think the pro competitions are tough to have today because there really isn't anything real about being pro anymore. Skaters do so many competitions and shows now they do not have to turn pro! I feel with all the events that exist now it would be tough to sell unfortunately.
Q: What I think is so cool is that after being the spokesperson for Herbal Magic and getting asked for cooking advice all of the time, you ended up on a cooking show. I remember flipping channels and being like "hold my drink! Liz Manley's on a cooking show with those cute Property Brothers...We're stopping everything and watching Extreme Potluck!". What would be on the menu at a fabulous dinner party at your house and would you be down for all figure skater version of Come Dine With Me Canada?
A: Oh my God, I would love that! Bring it on! I'm in! I love cooking. If I was to have a big dinner I would do a Manley favourite with a great roast, veggies and fruit tarts for dessert. Thanks for watching that show. It was SO much fun to do!
Q: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had told me that when they came to do your show, they were treated like absolute rock stars - like the complete star treatment, limo and all. I love that! Where did the idea of putting together Elizabeth Manley And Friends first come from and what have been the most rewarding aspects of doing these events?
A: It means a lot to hear that. I developed the event to raise funds for mental health. I'm passionate about this cause (especially for teen mental health) and this was an event I really wanted to do. It's been so wonderful to do and my friends in skating have been so incredibly gracious at participating in it and helping the cause. Having suffered from depression as a teen myself and understanding the need for help has made me realize the need for more awareness and the reducing of stigma with mental health.
Q: What can you tell me about the third Elizabeth Manley And Friends show you have coming up in Ottawa?
A: Years of support from the city is the backbone of my success. Without the support I got from Ottawa I may not have ever accomplished my dreams. Because of this, I'm at a time in my life where my passion is to give back to my incredible city and that is why I have created these shows, along with my husband Brent Theobald. The February event will be a star studded event with Olympic and world class skaters, aerial and acrobatic stars and the amazing Alan Frew of Glass of Tiger will be performing live along with performing live to some of the skaters. The cast has Elvis Stojko, Javier Fernandez, Shawn Sawyer, Kimmie Meissner, Gladys Orozco, Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, aerialist Emmanuelle Balmori, Alan Frew, Violetta Afanasieva and Pete Dack and myself. It's a two day event with an amazing gala dinner at Brookstreet Hotel on February 13 and then one performance show at 7:30 at the new TD Place on February 14. Portions of proceeds will be given to Do It For Daron courtesy of The Ottawa Senators Foundation and YSB (the Youth Services Bureau Of Ottawa. The director is David Rosen and Randy Gardner is choreographing. Presenting sponsors of this great event are TD, BDO and Accora Village. Very excited to have them support me and this great cause!
Q: Speaking Of Do It For Daron, I have to really stand up and applaud you for all of the great work you do in going to schools and talking to kids about issues like depression and bullying. I listened to your interview with PJ Kwong and am just so inspired by your candor and passion when it comes to talking about these important issues and really showing some humanity to people that are going through really hard times, of which I know you've had your fair share. I wrote a series of articles during the Sochi Olympics called "Getting Up And Saying No" that quite bluntly addressed the bullying of figure skaters in social media by "fans" and media and to be honest with you, it is an issue I am very passionate about myself. What are your thoughts on social media and bullying and what are some things athletes can do to address this?
A: It's such a passionate subject for me too and my advice to athletes is to do their best and to ignore what's said or written. It's SO hard to do but the greatest saying I carried with me was "whether they are talking about you - bad or good - at least your worth talking about!" That's my advice for the skaters who feel the bullying or pressure through media.
Q: I have to give you mad props for coming back and getting yourself in the shape you are in and skating again. You need to get on the Stars On Ice tour as far as I'm concerned... just sayin. How difficult was fighting through some injuries and returning to the ice? How has training been going?
A: (laughing) It's been very difficult as I get older but I'm hanging in there. I obviously am not the skater I used to be but I try my best. I unfortunately fractured my back in three places last spring during rehearsals and it's been a tough recovery but I'm back doing okay now!
Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: That's a tough one but definitely Scott Hamilton because I loved his many characters and styles and that's what I wanted to be as a pro. Robin Cousins... I studied him for years and I wanted to jump just like him. He was the one I idolized when I competed. Last has to be Barbara Ann Scott. I grew up wanting to be her. She was a princess in my eyes.
Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
A: (laughing) I think everyone knows everything about me but I'm a NFL fanatic and love to golf.
Q: What is the best advice you can offer to someone who's really struggling - whether it's with skating, depression, bullying, life... anything?
A: NEVER let anyone tell you you can't or you're not good enough! Believe!
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