Radford skates with courage

Eric Radford has a nosebleed at the end of the pairs short program at the world figure skating...

Eric Radford has a nosebleed at the end of the pairs short program at the world figure skating championships this past April in April. (Getty Images)

Ryan Pyette, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:31 PM ET

The image from Moscow is unforgettable.

At the worlds last spring, Canadian pairs skater Eric Radford busted his nose after an early, accidental elbow from his partner Meagan Duhamel but finished the short program, covered in horror flick-worthy blood by the end of it.

The public display of fortitude earned Radford legendary tough-guy status.

But, as it turns out, that incident only scrapes the surface of his courage.

Radford, who combined with Duhamel for a smashing personal best 62.37-point performance and second-place position to open Skate Canada International Friday afternoon at the Hershey Centre, grew up in tiny Balmertown, a northern Ontario town of 1,000 people located six hours north of Thunder Bay.

He was unique to his skating club.

“I was the only male,” the 26-year-old said.

He was picked on and bullied for his choice of sport. He had to constantly put on a brave face.

“At the very beginning, the other kids were too young to say anything,” he said. “The really high-level hockey players never bothered me.”

The top puck-chasers, he figured, held him with a certain level of respect for reaching similar heights in his sport.

“It was the mid-range guys who did it for the status that gave me a hard time,” he recalled.“I was harassed.”

Radford fell in love with skating after watching skating on TV.

“Kurt Browning,” he said. “He was my hero.”

Star power, however, often doesn’t find its way out of the less-populated areas of Canada’s north. The clubs are small, the coaching is limited and competition is hard to find.

Radford had to leave home at 13 to chase his dream.

“I moved to Kenora first, then Winnipeg, then Montreal and Toronto,” he said. “I was in a different high school every year. My mother pretty much raised me over the phone.”

He started skating with Rachel Kirkland in 2005 under the tutelage of Brian Orser and won a Canadian junior silver medal the following season.

That, and another partnership, fizzled out. Last year, he was in limbo until a successful tryout with Duhamel, who was looking for new chemistry after veteran Craig Buntin called it quits.

The 25-year-old from Lively, Ont., near Sudbury, is a northern skater, too.

“We both are, but he comes from 25 hours away,” she said with a grin. “It’s important to represent the north because the numbers (of skaters) are small. They need that support.”

Duhamel has yet to visit Balmertown.

“She’s going to have to come up for a (club) show,” Radford said.

Duhamel would fit in up there. She is a tough cookie.

Before she found her niche, she skated singles and pairs at the same competitions, including nationals.

“When you’re 16, 17, you feel like you can skate for six or seven hours a day,” she said. “It doesn’t bother you. I loved it. Right now, it feels like it would be a lot. I feel really comfortable right now with where I am. I have the right partner. I’m in a good place.

“It’s a nice feeling. This was our first clean short program as a pair so mission accomplished.”

A skate like that, all the pain is worth it. After the worlds, it took a month for Radford’s nose to set because they had to keep competing and practising.

“We had to skate the next day,” Duhamel said. “We didn’t want to stop (in the middle of the program) because we didn’t know if it was allowed. When it’s the first time something’s happened like that, you don’t know what to do.”

No one yet has approached Radford in the street, recognizing him as that broken-beaked warrior.

“But other pair skaters have,” he said. “They said they didn’t know if they would’ve been able to continue if it was them.”

He is battle-hardened and it looks like he and Duhamel have something here. It doesn’t take too long, once a pair clicks, to reach great heights.

Maybe some day soon, Radford won’t only be regarded as the skater willing to go the distance.

Maybe he’ll become the picture of northern perseverance who finishes on top of the world.

 


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