Skating with Confidence

Calgarian figure skater Julia Whelan’s biggest rival was always herself, which she attributes to her perfectionist personality and struggles with self-confidence.

“I’m really good at letting everyone else do their own thing, and I fight for my personal best,” she says in a face-to-face interview.

“I’ve always been one to try and better myself instead of worrying about what other people are doing.”

Because of her perfectionism, Whelan says she struggled with confidence for a few years.

“I would just get ridiculously nervous, feel sick and I would cry,” she explains.

“I’d get on the ice and nothing would work. I pulled out of a few competitions.

“I got so stressed because I wanted to be better but I was just not.”

Although the downward spiral lasted for two years, Whelan says her coach helped her regain the confidence she needed to continue.

“I was really lucky to have the coach I did, she knew exactly how my brain worked and how I learned,” she says.

“I just had a rough couple years with confidence and she helped me grow out of that.”

Whelan’s coach Lynanne Bjerke says that making Whelan more confident was one of the reasons why she wanted to coach her.

“Julia was a sweet, very shy little girl that I wanted to bring out a little and make her more confident,” says Bjerke in an email interview.

Bjerke did just that as Whelan continued to pass all 40-some figure skating exams and will be receiving the Triple Gold Award in May, which is highest award an amateur skater could achieve.

Whelan began focusing on the sport because a coach at the Olympic Oval told her that she was good at skating. Upon arriving at Crowfoot Twin Arenas, she met Bjerke who gave her the same confidence in her skill, and they’ve been together ever since.

The most exciting accomplishment for Whelan was a provincial competition two years ago.

“I thought I did terrible, I fell in my program and my coaches told me not to expect anything,” Whelan explains.

“Then I came first in the group and then came seventh overall in the province which was pretty exciting.”

Julia Whelan’s mom, Cecile Whelan, has been watching Julia’s progress from the time she was a child, and understands Julia’s confidence issues well.

“When I watch her compete I feel proud, excited, but also nervous, as I know how much work goes into those few minutes on the ice, realizing that all the hard work can pay off, but also realizing that one element going wrong can make all the hard work seem ‘wasted’,” says Cecile in an email interview.

“I also feel proud when Julia competes, because it must be so nerve-racking to be completely by yourself on the ice, with sometimes hundreds of people watching you, hoping that every moment of your skate will go as perfect as possible.”

Other than her coach Lynanne, Julia says she looks up to Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and figure skaters Joannie Rochette, Gracie Gold, and Patrick Chan.

“Just watching other people skate just makes me itch to go on the ice immediately,” she says.

“When I’m off [the ice] I miss it after a week.”

She joked that it was un-Canadian of her to like Gracie Gold, but the two share a similar appearance, as both are blonde, tall, and slim skaters.

Whelan now misses the sport more than ever as she finished competing in December 2016.

She left the sport after finishing all of her skating tests and entering the University of Calgary where she is taking geography.

“I’m just coaching now; I’m not competing or anything so it’s the end of an era for me,” she says, sadly.

“I miss it so much right now.”

Whelan describes the feeling of being on the ice as “freeing”, despite the fact that figure skating isn’t easy on the body or mind.

“I’m super clumsy, like I trip over everything, but when I’m on the ice it just comes naturally,” she explains.

“My knees are dead forever; by the end of my career I was wearing knee braces on both of them and my tailbone is permanently bruised.

“It looks so graceful, but it’s hard on your body.”

Despite the injuries, Cecile noticed how dedicated Julia was from the very beginning.

She says that Julia would train up to six days per week including early morning practices before school.

“She was always happy and excited to go, never missing a session unless absolutely necessary for whatever reason,” says Cecile.

“There was a year that she broke her elbow, had 2 surgeries, and then managed to win a medal only 2 months later in the last competition of the year.”

Julia explains that her dedication to the sport has something to do with it being exclusively hers among her friends and family.

“I don’t know many other people that do it. It just feels like my thing,” she laughs.

“I don’t share it with anyone, it’s my sport.”

She says her sister came close to trying figure skating and admits to being a little possessive of it.

Now that Whelan has started coaching as a part-time job, she’s had to get over her possessiveness, but she doesn’t mind.

“I love seeing the progression of kids,” she says, smiling.

Whelen says she’s not ready to give up skating for good though, so keep your eyes peeled for this experienced skater on the ice.

Miriam Johnston

Miriam Johnston

I am a third-year Communications Student from Calgary, Alberta as well as a piano teacher. I enjoy writing stories about interesting events. I have many hobbies including learning various languages and drawing. @MLJournalist
  • Gino Terrell

    Very cool story, a great redemption story on how people can overcome their struggles and shine. Also, really cool to see Julia giving back as a coach helping kids skate.