On a night when her home town celebrated her biggest speed skating triumph, Kristina Groves was an ocean away.
Back at the scene of it all, for a one-year anniversary moment, if you will. Even if she had to work a little hard to picture those giddy nights of Olympic glory.
Groves has returned to Turin, Italy, for a World Cup long-track event this weekend, not just to reminisce. She's back at the speed skating oval where she glided to a pair of silver medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics -- the achievement that, more than anything, earned her the city's female athlete of the year honour at the 54th Ottawa Sports Awards dinner last night at Algonquin College.
It's the third straight year that Groves has earned the distinction.
Honoured as male athlete of the year last night was Carleton Ravens basketball star guard Osvaldo Jeanty, who led his team to a fourth straight Canadian university men's hoops title in 2006.
Jeanty, a Gloucester resident, also received four other CIS honours last year: Male athlete and men's basketball player of the year, and championship tournament and final MVP.
For Groves, the scene in Turin now isn't anywhere near the one she savoured a year ago. In an e-mail to the Sun, she said the former Olympic athletes' village, where she's staying this week, "feels like a ghost town."
MEMORIES 'FLOOD BACK'
"The rink is nearly unrecognizable," said Groves, 30, who now lives and trains in Calgary. "I feel like I'm not even in the same building! Most of the stands are gone, all the posters, the people, the energy, the buzz ... it's all gone.
"If I sit for a moment and think, all those memories do flood back, but in a surreal kind of way, almost like none of it ever happened."
Then again, Groves has moved forward into the post-Olympic season, as any elite athlete must. Even if thoughts of the two silvers she won at the Turin Games -- in the women's team pursuit and 1,500 metres -- are still reminders of "such a joyous time."
"But I am also acutely aware that, especially now being back here a year later, that time marches on and those days are almost a distant memory," said Groves, who sent a videotaped thank-you to last night's dinner. "While it can be fun to look back on the memories, I am careful not to get stuck there and instead try to be in the moment."
Most of the time, her Olympic medals are tucked away in a CD case in her closet, although Groves enjoys the wide-eyed looks they get when she breaks them out for school visits or other functions.
Groves, though, sees the medals in a different light.
"To me, they represent the journey I took to get them," said Groves, who still represents the Ottawa Pacers club that got her started in the sport. "Looking back at all the years I've spent training and competing, and how much I have learned, grown and changed ... it's amazing, but believable to me, that I actually made those races happen on the days that counted."
She won't, however, forget the nights she received those medals at the raucous plaza in downtown Turin, and became one of the capital's most decorated Olympians ever.
"Those moments on the podium gave me a supreme sense of joy and satisfaction at having accomplished something in my life that I spent so long to achieve," said Groves. "I worked so hard to get there and gave everything of myself to see how good I could be, and finally seeing it come to fruition is nearly indescribable."
Other major award winners included: Dave Smart, Ravens men's basketball, male coach of the year; Pat Messner, water skiing, female coach of the year; Ottawa St. Anthony's Italia Soccer Club, male team of the year; and Joyce Potter curling team, female team of the year.
The Team 1200's Dave Schreiber was awarded with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the local sports community.