Red Deer skater, says win or lose, faith is her strength

Red Deer native Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg says faith is central in her life.

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Red Deer native Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg says faith is central in her life.

February 17, 2014
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg has big skates to fill at her first Winter Olympics.

Canadian speed skating legend Jeremy Wotherspoon is an older brother, national team member Jamie Gregg is her husband and she has two former Olympians as parents-in-law.

But Wotherspoon-Gregg, who'll represent Canada in 500-metre speed skating at the 2014 Winter Games, has faith to keep her calm.

"The biggest thing for me is having that faith," said Wotherspoon-Gregg. "It just helps knowing that there is always someone with you and watching you. For me, that is just a huge thing and it can also be very comforting in sport."

She credits her strong faith to her parents, her friends and her Catholic education.

"I always had an amazing support system from my teachers, especially in high school," she said. "There were a lot of teachers who really supported me and my sports. I questioned everything, but people really kept me on a good path."

One of her former teachers, Lee Caine, who continues to stay in contact with Wotherspoon-Gregg, said he's pleased that he had the opportunity to support her academically, athletically and more so spiritually.

"I always gave a Catholic perspective (and) I'd always make reference to our faith," said Caine, who taught Wotherspoon-Gregg social studies at École Secondaire Notre Dame High School in Red Deer.

"My references may not have been biblical, they were more just what kind of journey are we on and where are we at on that journey because as teenagers they don't know where they are at.

"Sometimes they question quite a bit and you just have to help them in the right direction and let them know that faith is going to carry them through some of the tough times."

Even off the ice, faith played an important role in Wotherspoon's journey towards the Olympic oval. After moving to enrol at the University of Calgary and advance her career, Wotherspoon-Gregg found a replacement for the supportive community she left behind in Red Deer.

"When I first moved to Calgary, I was pretty involved, actually, in a non-denominational church," said Wotherspoon-Gregg, a Roman Catholic. "I just think I have a really good community in the Church."

LATE BLOOMER

Wotherspoon-Gregg, 33, will make her inaugural Winter Olympics appearance as a competitor in Sochi, Russia. But it isn't the first time she's been to the Games. In 1998 she travelled to Nagano, Japan, to watch her older brother capture a silver medal in the 500 metres.

That's when the Olympic bug bit the Red Deer native, who still skates out of Calgary.

"When my brother went to the Olympics in 1998 and I went and watched him, that is when I kind of thought, 'Oh for sure I'll be going,'" she said. "That is when it kind of became more real for me."

She'll also be following in the footsteps of Gregg's parents. Randy Gregg, a five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers, was captain of Canada's 1980 Olympic hockey team. His wife Kathy Vogt competed in Olympic speed skating in 1976 and 1980.

Although Wotherspoon-Gregg's Olympic dream became "more real" after the Nagano Games, her journey didn't get any easier.

"I've had kind of a longer journey with achieving this goal because the last two Olympic trials I wasn't really healthy," said Wotherspoon-Gregg.

"In 2006 I was sick so I wasn't competing at a competitive level, not competitive enough to make the team, and in 2010 I pulled my hip flexor really bad.

"I never honestly thought I would still be skating in 2014 but when I was 25 I took a year off and I didn't think I was done with the sport but I did some reflecting and figured out what I needed as an athlete and I was really motivated when I came back and I've been improving ever since."

Not only did she come back motivated, she also had her sights set on walking into the Feb. 7 opening ceremony, clad in the colours of Canada with her older brother close by.

SURPRISE CUT

Unfortunately Jeremy, who teaches speed skating in Germany, failed to make the cut during Team Canada's 2014 Winter Olympic Trials. This is the first Olympics that Wotherspoon - a four-time world sprint champion, 13-time World Cup overall champion and Olympic silver medallist - will not don Team Canada colours on the Olympic oval since Nagano.

Despite being disappointed, Wotherspoon-Gregg won't let her spirits be dampened by her brother's absence in Sochi.

"It is kind of funny because my whole late teens and early 20s I always dreamed about walking into the opening ceremonies with my brother," she said.

"That was always kind of my dream and that never happened for me but I get to walk in with my husband now so it is kind of like a changed dream in a sense."

Gregg, who married Wotherspoon-Gregg this past June, will make his second appearance at the Winter Games competing in the 500-metre event after qualifying at the 2014 Olympic trials.

PERSEVERANCE

While Wotherspoon-Gregg's journey to the Olympics has taken some time, her story reflects her personality, said Caine, now a guidance counsellor at Notre Dame.

"She hasn't risen to the top as fast as other athletes might, but she has persevered," said Caine.

"She's Jeremy's younger sister and I assume that that hasn't been easy. Danielle has had maybe a more difficult path to pave for herself and she has done an amazing job doing that."

What's kept her going is the same thing that keeps her calm on the oval.

"Just having blind faith," said Wotherspoon-Gregg, who always travels with an angel made by a friend to keep her safe. "For me, I just know that at the end of the day whatever the outcome I am still at peace and I think that faith gives you that peace."