Asthma won't keep Jaleel away

BRIAN SWANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

A flu-triggered asthma attack sent Ehren Jaleel to the ER mere days before he was scheduled to compete at the Canadian figure skating championships last month.

Undaunted, the Royal Glenora skater was released from hospital and hit the road for Saskatoon, optimistic his health would return in time for the biggest event of the season.

But as competition drew near, his condition only worsened.

Turns out he had pneumonia.

"The day before my short program, I was feeling pretty bad and I had lost a bunch of weight, at least eight pounds, so I was feeling weak," recalls Jaleel.

After his last practice, just hours before the men's short program, a stricken Jaleel decided he couldn't go.

It was the toughest decision the 20-year-old has ever made.

"I've never actually withdrawn from a competition, and for it to be the nationals was a pretty big thing," he says. "It was really hard for me, it was pretty emotional, but it's what was right, so I understood that."

Fresh off winning Skate Canada's Alberta/NWT/Nunavut sectionals for a second consecutive season, Jaleel was poised for a significant improvement on his 16th place finish at the 2008 Canadian championships.

His evolving program includes a triple-lutz and triple-toe combination, and increasingly difficult spins and footwork.

"The bottom line is the guy had never been in better shape in his career," says coach Ben Ferreira, who knew things weren't right as his protege went through his final run-throughs in Saskatoon.

"The guy had never jumped better, the timing was excellent, but just skating around and coming back to the boards he was exhausted, so I was like, 'You know what, there's no way this guy can make it through a two-and- a-half or four-minute program,' so we just had to make that call."

Ferreira can relate. Like Jaleel, the veteran of eight Canadian championships is asthmatic, and says there were moments in his skating career when he was not 100%.

"At the end of the day you just re-evaluate," Ferreira adds. "I put myself on the line, and just say 'yes' or 'no 'and you just deal with it and move on.

"But I think at this point, as a coach, you want to make sure you're giving the athlete the best opportunity."

At the 2005 Canadian novice championships, Jaleel showed remarkable resilience, skating on a sprained ankle to win gold, a courageous performance he calls "a paradigm for me now."

His long program is almost always better than his short, a testament to his condition and composure.

Unfortunately, none of those traits could help him in Saskatoon, where he was reduced to being a spectator in the Credit Union Centre bleachers, watching Patrick Chan defend his title as Canada's top men's skater.

"It was nice to watch and to still get that competitive vibe from it," Jaleel says. "It gave me some hunger for next year."

Indeed, 2010 is now the focus.

Upon returning to Edmonton, Jaleel took a couple weeks off to recover, and is now back on the ice.

The third-year arts student at the University of Alberta says he has at least four or five more years left in him, and his coach figures the best is yet to come.

"He really came a long way this year, really improved a lot," says Ferreira.

"So for next season I think we can really build upon that foundation that we did this year and step it up a notch."

BRIAN.SWANE@SUNMEDIA.CA

bswane@edmontonexaminer.com


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