Manley overcoming tough times

The highs of Elizabeth Manley's successful amateur, and then professional, skating careers gave way...

The highs of Elizabeth Manley's successful amateur, and then professional, skating careers gave way to the lows of recent years. (QMI Agency/Mike Drew)

PETER RUICCI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT. - The last few years haven't been easy ones for Elizabeth Manley-Theobald.

But when she arrives in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday, one of this country's figure skating elite will do so wearing a smile.

“Life is good again,” said Manley-Theobald, best known for an electrifying free program that resulted in a silver medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

She was also a silver-medallist at that year’s World Championships, before retiring from competitive skating.

But the highs of her successful amateur, and then professional, skating careers gave way to the lows of recent years.

Her mother, Joan, died of ovarian cancer in 2008 — “I completely fell apart when she passed away,” Manley-Theobald admitted Thursday — and her father, Bernard, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

Her parents divorced in the 1970s and Manley-Theobald was especially close to her mother, who invested both time and money into her daughter’s figure skating career.

“When my mother was diagnosed, I didn’t leave her side,” said Manley-Theobald, who had been living in Philadelphia, but returned to Canada when her mother fell ill.

She was a constant caregiver and was with both parents when they died.

“It’s been a rough few years,” said Manley-Theobald, who admitted she struggled after her parents passed away.

Contacted by a representative of Herbal Magic, a Canadian weight loss and nutrition franchise, Manley-Theobald said the company “saved my life. I had gained a lot of weight and they helped me get healthy again.”

She presently works for Herbal Magic as a spokesperson.

And now that she’s back to doing seminars, including Saturday’s 9-2:30 p.m. event at the Rhodes, Manley-Theobald is happy — and satisfied.

“I was very blessed to have been in a sport that allowed life after sport,” said Manley-Theobald, who is married to former Soo Greyhounds winger Brent Theobald.

She retired as a competitive amateur at age 22, before skating for 18 years in professional shows.

“I love going to different cities and having an opportunity to work with kids and clubs,” she added. “I see new faces all the time and this is a way for me to give back to the sport. It’s a pleasure doing it.”

The Algoma Region Skaters Development Seminar will involve roughly 50 skaters and coaches from seven clubs.

Local clubs taking part include: The Sault Figure Skating Club, Lake Superior Figure Skating Club and Shamrock Figure Skating Club.

Skaters range in age from 6-15 years.

Manley-Theobald spoke of how she enjoys going over the technical aspects of the sport with young skaters, including jumps and spins.

The last hour of each seminar, she added, is spent off-ice, dealing with such topics as warming up and making the best use of available ice time.

Manley-Theobald said she has a soft spot for smaller cities — especially Sault Ste. Marie.

A native of Trenton, Ont., near Belleville, Manley-Theobald enjoys working in communities such as the Sault.

“I was one of those kids,” she said of living in a smaller city. “Growing up in Trenton, I’d have never had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. Smaller cities appreciate this more — they embrace it.”

Beginning in 1999, Theobald, now 31, played two seasons for the Greyhounds.

A left-winger, he also skated for the Erie Otters and the old Mississauga IceDogs.

“I have a soft spot for the Sault because of my husband,” Manley-Theobald said. “I remember coming there when we were just dating.”

The two actually met when Theobald played in Mississauga.

His future wife was there to do a skating show when the two locked eyes.

“We were attracted to each other right away,” Manley-Theobald said.

But she was 14 years his senior and living in Las Vegas at the time.

“It was a phone call relationship at first,” she explained.

But eight years later, the two wed.

Manley-Theobald spoke of how the relationship was difficult in the early days.

“But when people saw us together, they got it,” she said. “He’s very mature for his age and I’m young for my age, so it’s great. We inspire each other. I’m not a cougar, I’m a puma. I’m a more upscale cat.”

The couple don’t have children — yet.

“It’s something we’re working on,” Manley-Theobald chuckled.

Along with the seminars and product endorsements, she makes a living as a motivational and corporate speaker.

She also speaks about ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and on behalf of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Manley-Theobald was diagnosed with clinical depression as a teenager.

Under stress from the pressures of the sport, she quit figure skating at age 17, only to return and eventually make the Canadian Olympic Team.

Asked what she’d like Sault skaters to take from the seminar, Manley-Theobald first spoke of how she’d like to help them with their technique.

But, she quickly added, she also seeks to inspire them.

“I was a small-town girl who made it the Olympics,” she said. “I wasn’t supposed to win a medal there, I was the underdog. But I did get a medal and it just shows that anyone can do it.”

Having left the professional show circuit four years ago, Manley-Theobald has been asked to skate in a major show in Atlantic City on Dec. 3.

Billed as The Legends of Women’s Skating, the event is to be turned into a two-hour special to be shown on NBC on New Year’s Day.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “Life is good. I’ve been through a lot of tragedy in my life, but I love being back in Canada and doing what I’m doing.”


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