As a kid aged 8 or 9, Katharine Davies took a few skating lessons, but it was not an activity that stuck with her as she was drawn to dance, more specifically ballet. A few months before the beginning of the pandemic, things started to shift for Katharine. She could feel her time as a ballet dancer coming to an end and found herself spending more and more time at the rink with her eldest daughter who had taken up figure skating.
In January 2020 Katharine thought it would be fun to take up figure skating as something she would be able to share with her daughter. She started slow, skating once a week, and was surprised at how hard it was. Ballet and figure skating often lend to one another, with many figure skaters taking dance classes to work on artistry, form, and other skills, but despite her background Katharine still found it quite challenging.
“I was getting frustrated,” she shared. “Everything felt harder on my left side.” Because of her ballet background, she chalked this up to having a good and bad side. “We all have an easier side and a harder side, but this gap was just so different.”
Winter passed, spring and summer came and went. All the while Katharine continued to find opportunities to skate despite the pandemic and found that she was beginning to make a fair amount of progress. The more progress, the more noticeable the gap became. What she could easily do on her right side was significantly harder on her left. Despite her on-ice challenges, there were no noticeable changes in her day-to-day life, so Katharine carried on.
In the fall of 2021, Katharine would discover that the gap she was experiencing on her left side was not limited to skating when she returned to a ballet class. Katharine shared: “Stuff that should have been super easy on either foot just wasn’t”. Following this discovery, Katharine immediately made an appointment with her doctor. Regular strength and conditioning tests revealed significantly decreased strength in her left leg. It could have been something neurological, or it could have been the nerves misfiring, but something was “off”. Katharine’s doctor sent her for numerous tests including an MRI.
The MRI revealed a brain tumor 5 centimeters in diameter (about the size of a small lemon), which is considered a large tumor. Things moved swiftly from that point. “20 minutes after my doctor entered my information into the database, he was contacted by a neurosurgeon. With a tumor this size everything is considered urgent.” Within two days, Katharine was sitting in the neurosurgeon’s office and found out she would have surgery as soon as an operating room was available.
On November 25, 2021, Katharine underwent a thirteen-hour brain surgery to have her tumor removed. Her surgeon was able to remove the entire tumor except for 2mm because the section the tumor was located in is a very sensitive area of the brain. Luckily, the surgery left Katharine with no permanent detriments; however, this was just the first step on her road to recovery and in January of 2022 Katharine would begin 27 rounds of radiation.
There was always a risk that Katharine might never skate again but four weeks later, determined and with the permission of her physiotherapist, she was back on the ice. “The first week I could not let go of the boards. The second week, I was able to let go of the boards to do stuff on my right foot. Week three, I was able to do everything next to the boards without holding on. Week four I was able to do backwards edges and by week five I was back to where I was prior to surgery.”
Katharine swears that figure skating saved her life. “If I hadn’t been skating, it could have been extremely, extremely severe. Not that it wasn’t, but it could have gotten to the point that it had done a lot more damage.” She continues to struggle with her left side on the ice but now thinks, “I have sort of reached close to a normal point of it just being a difference between the two.”
Katharine continues to skate and to live her regular day-to-day life. In November of 2022, she competed in her first competition in Adult Introduction Artistic and hopes to have developed enough to also compete an adult freestyle program next season. She has a goal of participating in the next ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Canada. Katharine is a true fighter, determined and resilient. Her story reminds us that it is never too late to try something new, and that skating is for people of all ages and abilities.