Marie-Amélie, French skater from Nexxice, blocked in France
Marie-Amélie Mansard (in the center) skating with the Nexxice last season. (Credits: Danielle Earl Photography - 2020)
Seven months after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, returning to normal life remains difficult for some of us. Zoom on Marie-Amélie Mansard-Juignet, a French athlete who moved to Canada to skate with Nexxice Sénior but who finds herself blocked in Europe since the borders were closed.
Back on her journey!
Marie-Amélie: Normally, I would say that I live in Hamilton, in Ontario in Canada, but at the moment I am with my family in France, in Haute-Savoie near the Mont-Blanc. I moved around a lot when I was little: I was born in Brittany, in Brest, before spending a large part of my youth in Lyon.
I started skating a bit by chance. I was only 3 years old when I passed the skating rink in Lyon, and my parents offered me to try. I immediately fell in love. I even arrived early to training to be able to admire the other skaters who trained before me. Subsequently, it was the Canadian dancers Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir as well as the French Isabelle Delobel / Olivier Schoenfelder, who were my source of inspiration with their elegance and the ease they had to skate.
How do you spend your time between seasons?
The off-seasons are often very short in skating so I take advantage of these few weeks to completely take down the skates and take care of my body. This break allows me to get back in shape and motivated to attack the new season.
I started skating by practicing ice dance, first individually for 7 years, and then with a partner for 4 years. It was in 2015 that I discovered synchronized skating, 2 months before the World Championships in Hamilton, Canada. Indeed, the French synchronized skating team, les Zoulous, was (and still is) in Lyon and was looking for 2 skaters to complete the team for this last competition of the season. I passed the auditions and was lucky enough to be taken. After this beautiful and new adventure, I decided to stop skating. Only 6 months later I realized that I missed skating. So I took over individually in ice dance at the Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc club with Isabelle Delobel. In 2017, I applied to return to the French synchronized skating team in Lyon, at Les Zoulous. I skated 2 entire seasons with this team.
I applied on a whim. After the World Championships in Helsinki in 2019, I was full of doubts and I didn't know if I wanted to continue, to leave or just to stop everything. My motivation was no longer there. That's when I saw an Instagram post from Nexxice, which was looking for skaters to complement their Senior team. The next day I was shooting an application video that I sent to Nexxice's coaches. A few days later, I was accepted into the team. I took the plane 2 weeks later.
Why did you choose this team?
I have always admired the quality of Nexxice skating, so it was a logical choice for me.
The first difference between France and Canada (outside Quebec) is the language, where we speak English. Thanks to the series that I have been watching in the original version for a few years, I had a good basis in English before leaving. I didn't need to take any classes but I was able to improve my fluency by practicing every day and I gained confidence.
In terms of lifestyle, the diet is different. For example, meal times, where dinner is around 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Canada unlike in France where it is more around 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. The products are also different or not as accessible as in France. At first, it's disturbing, but you get used to it.
For skating, Canada is fortunate to have an innumerable number of rinks in all towns and villages, which facilitates the training schedule with more advantageous schedules.
My first year with Nexxice has been an incredible experience and I have no regrets. The only downside was that I could not get my release from the French federation (letter allowing a skater to represent another country.) which meant that I could not participate in international competitions or Canadian championships. Despite everything, thanks to my coaches and teammates, I always felt like an integral part of the team and I never felt left out. I trained just as much as the rest of the team.
Our coaches are mainly Shelley Simonton-Barnett and Anne Schelter. We are also fortunate to have the active and regular participation of Jennifer and Danyel, former Nexxice skaters. Each season, we also have other coaches (choreographers and dancers) who come to help us with our programs to develop our artistic qualities on and off the ice. Finally, we also have a physical trainer, once or twice a week, to maintain our physical condition.
Our training varies, and we often have more as we approach competitions. Usually, we train at Appleby Arena in Burlington, but sometimes we vary the rinks to get used to the stands or to have the chance to skate on Olympic ice. In Canada, the ices are often of hockey proportions, which are slightly different. The training sessions are similar to what I have experienced in France, but in Canada, we are lucky to have more training.
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I am obviously very sad that the Worlds were canceled. I couldn't wait to be in Lake Placid to show off our wonderful programs. We had worked really hard. However, the cancellation is understandable. The health situation is very important and health must always come first!
The current health situation has affected, and still affects our training. The rules are quite strict in Canada, which allowed us to resume training late in the summer and only in small groups, then finally as a full team. Even today, physical contact is still not allowed except for skaters living together. We stay positive by telling ourselves that this is the perfect opportunity to work on our individual qualities. Unfortunately, some foreign skaters including me are stuck in Europe. Despite everything, we can attend the training thanks to the Zoom application, even if it's with jet lag.
I'm not going to hide it, the situation is difficult, it isn't easy to manage. I have a little trouble accepting the prolonged closure of Canadian borders for athletes (non-professionals, therefore who don't make money with their sport) but I understand that it is about the security of the country and I can only wait patiently. There are many rumors that Canada's borders will remain closed until at least early 2021... Hopefully, the restrictions will ease soon.
In the meantime, I take the opportunity to return to university to validate my Sport License with the aim of becoming a specific physical trainer and getting involved in the research and development of motor skills. I also started a season in ice dance at Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc while doing the Zoom off-ice training with Nexxice. This keeps me in shape, in touch with the team and the coaches, as well as comfortable on the ice while waiting to go back.
For the moment, I plan to skate for 2 more seasons with Nexxice, until April 2022. Then, only the future will tell me.
Canadian immigration allows (at least, before Covid-19) foreign athletes to enter and stay on Canadian territory to practice their sport on a Canadian team for the duration of the season. The transition to immigration was very easy and hassle-free. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a work permit and I remain so under visitor status.
My goal is to stay at the team level so that I'm ready for my comeback. The main goal this season is to adapt to the situation and to give our best.
Competitions are always announced so we are working hard to prepare for them in order to always bring more creativity, elegance, and artistry. Only time will tell whether these competitions will take place, in their original form or not. 2020 is the year of surprises!
As health measures are different in each country, and only evolve differently, we cannot know if the competitions will take place, but I hope there will be some. There has been a lot of talk about live stream type virtual competitions, it may be a good idea to keep synchronized skating competitive during this complicated season but it is bound to be very different. The atmosphere of the supporters, the warm-up areas, the team time at the hotel will miss the competitive spirit.
The situation is complicated for everyone and I think it's important to remember that. We are all in the same boat. The importance is to adapt and find what works for everyone, whether it be sports, meditation, friends. It's important to take care of yourself, even more than before. In France, we had general confinement for 5 weeks, with the right to a daily one-hour outing, 1 km from our home maximum. It allowed me to do some sports. It was really the key to my well being.
To all skaters who dream of going to live new experiences: "just do it." There will be more regrets in giving up than embarking on the adventure!