Elvis Stojko is back.
Mexico is in his rear-view mirror and so are the tangerine and papaya trees of Ajijic, where he lived for 12 years.
He’s come home to Canada a happy man, married to Gladys Orozco for five years, and a career that now takes him in multiple directions: skating, race car driving, acting, singing. And he’s tying himself again to Skate Canada, on board to conduct some seminars for developing skaters and donating some proceeds from the sale of his new wine, Quad, to the association.
Three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko has much to offer budding skating stars, including his warrior attitude during competition. Stojko was the ultimate competitor, never backing down from a challenge. And at no time was that mindset more tested than at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, when he skated with a groin injury.
Stojko is a problem solver and he had plenty of problems to solve in Nagano. Some proved beyond him, ultimately. He had already stressed his groin at the Canadian championships that year, but the morning of the men’s short program at the Nagano Olympics, he tore a muscle in his groin at an early morning practice. He went into emergency mode.
He pushed himself hard to win that silver medal. But the aftermath of it all, and of everything that had happened to him that year, came back to haunt him. At the very end of that epic, courageous long program, Stojko felt something break inside of him. Call it his will or his spirit. “It just broke and I was never – after that point, no matter how much I tried to train or skate – able to have that same feeling again,” Stojko said. “And that was my strength.”
“I went through my bout of major dark times,” Stojko said.
He had overextended his incredible will. “I guess my faith snapped or my willpower snapped,” he said. “From that point on, I was broken. I was heartbroken and I was broken.” He didn’t know it at the time, because he had been so programed to train and go to the rink, work for next year’s programs, go through all those important steps.
Stojko continued to skate, to give it another shot. He came back stronger than ever, with two quads. But he still wasn’t even close to being mentally the same as he was in early 1998. He figures he skated at about 65 per cent of his capabilities. He made it to 2002, then quit, and fell into a deep depression that he didn’t even realize he had. It really had started after the 1998 Games.
“I went through my bout of major dark times,” Stojko said. “It’s one of the reasons I left Canada. I needed some space and anonymity. I went through some hard times with family issues, after my parents split. Mexico was my place of solitude.”
The athletes that put a lot of heart into their endeavours sometimes find the switch to ordinary life difficult, Stojko said. He once heard Olympic swimming champion Mark Tewksbury talk about life after the Olympics during the 1990s, after he won his gold medal. Tewksbury moved to Australia for a year in post-Olympic depression.
“He had no idea how to move on and how to deal with stuff,” Stojko said. “And for me, it was a hard transition, too. Skaters are lucky in that they still have some shows, if you have a name in skating. Other skaters can go on cruise ships. But it’s not an easy process to go through.”
The worst is that you are caught between a rock and a hard place, Stojko said. You want to do what you feel you want to do. But you need to pay bills. “Then you’re stuck, going after something you may not want to do,” he said.
Financially, Stojko was okay, but his entire life had revolved around skating from the time he was four. It was his grounding place. He never thought about what comes next. “I could only see myself as Elvis Stokjo the skater,” he said. “Everyone saw me as that. I needed to find out what’s going to make me happy as a complete person. And it took a long time to figure that out.
“I wasn’t depressed because I was leaving skating,” he said. “I was depressed because of the huge buildup [to the Olympics] and what I went through mentally with that injury. That injury just socked me bad.”
For Stojko, it wasn’t so much the fact that he didn’t win gold in Nagano. “It was about not being able to reach that peak that I knew I could do,” he said. “I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. Everybody thought I could win it. I showed up and knew I was skating on one leg.”
But Stojko has figured it all out. In Mexico, the fog eventually lifted. And then he met Orozco. And now racing cars has allowed him to tap back into his Terminator self. “I feel from that, I’ve let go from that [stuff] in 1998,” he said. “I’d say it took me at least 10 years to clear all that air of what happened in Nagano. My leg healed, but my soul didn’t. My soul took a lot longer.”
What makes him happy now? Spending time with his wife and his dogs. It’s his happy place these days. Now that he’s back in Canada, he’s spending time with his best friend, Glen Doyle, his sifu during his martial arts days.
He takes his hat off to Orozco, who told him that she does not care where she lives, as long as she is with him. She’s already endured one horrible Canadian winter and it’s okay. The couple knew they had to move back to Canada because more opportunities awaited them than in that growing retirement community of Ajijic, near Guadalajara. Stojko is searching for sponsors for his racing endeavours. Orozco, with her exotic look, has modeling opportunities in Toronto.
They sold off everything in Mexico a year ago and left with the bare essentials, their three dogs, clothing, some knickknacks. They held a couple of giant garage sales in Ajijic, sold the house furnished, and drove their truck to Canada. A friend drove it back to Mexico to sell it.
Now the couple is living in Richmond Hill, Ont., where Stojko grew up and they are starting anew. “It was kind of cool,” Stojko said of divesting themselves of possessions. “It was refreshing.”