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Two-time figure skating world champ reveals how her diet changed her life

Meagan Duhamel loves her life. You can see it in her eyes.

She thrives on the daily twists and turns—not to mention the perilous lifts and death spirals—that come with the territory of being a two-time world champion pairs figure skater and Olympic silver medalist. 

“My childhood dream was to be exactly where I am today. How amazing is that?” Duhamel told Excelle Sports.

Today, Duhamel, 31, is gearing up for the 2018 Olympic season, with her sights set on reaching the podium in PyeongChang next February with her on-ice partner, Eric Radford. 

[More from Excelle Sports: Canadian figure skater Gabrielle Daleman sidelined after abdominal surgery]

In a physically punishing sport that often pushes female athletes into retirement in their early- to mid-20s, the charismatic Canadian credits her longevity in sport to a vegan diet, good lifestyle choices, proper training habits and, yes, grit.

While sipping a smoothie of pears, bananas, almond butter and almond milk at a popular Winnipeg bistro midway through her Canada Stars on Ice tour this May, Duhamel described the advantages of becoming vegan, which she did nearly 10 years ago. 

“I found that since I became vegan that my recovery rate after training is crazy,” she said. “I can recover instantly. I feel it’s because of what I’m fueling my body with.  

“I used to suffer a lot of little injuries, nagging injuries—nothing serious—but since I’ve been committed to this plant-based lifestyle, those have all but disappeared. It’s quite remarkable”. 

The 4-foot-11 skater, who hails from the small town of Lively, Ontario, first became intrigued by the vegan diet in 2008. 

“At the beginning, it was more of a challenge to myself: ‘I wonder if I can do this. What’s it all about?’” she said. “Now, it’s developed into a passion.”

While continuing to train, Duhamel began studying holistic nutrition in her spare time at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, in addition to trying to learn as much as she could about natural health, which, she emphasizes, is not entirely about being vegan. 

“I learned about the nutrition in fish and eggs and organic foods,” she said. I wanted to learn more to make my body healthier, and then I started wanting to educate others.”

Two years ago, Duhamel launched the holistic health and nutrition blog, Lutz of Greens, for which she writes all posts. Composing stories was something she enjoyed as a child and says she wrote about her skating heroes—Michelle Kwan, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko— thinking that one day she would be a sports writer. 

While she swapped being the author of sport reports for being the subject, she thinks of her blog as a good springboard towards reaching her professional goals after she retires from skating after the Olympics next year: to write a nutrition book, open a wellness centre and develop a nutrition program for athletes. 

[More from Excelle Sports: Exclusive: Kristi Yamaguchi says an American can win World Figure Skating Champs]

“As I’m ending my competitive career [after the 2018 season], it’s good to have something to step into,” she said. “I want to teach athletes about natural health, living a life fulfilling your potential and learning about proper training, nutrition, living habits to help you become the best athlete you can be.” 

First, though, the Montreal-based skater wants to the be the best athlete she can be, hoping to win a record seventh Canadian national title and at least one more Olympic medal with Radford.

Yet while she continues to dream big after lasting longer in the sport than most, Duhamel concedes it’s not always easy maintaining the diet to which she credits her longevity: veganism. Nutritious plant-based meals aren’t always readily on hand at international events, even the Olympics. 

In the massive Athletes Village cafeteria at the 2014 Games in Sochi, for example, just one vegan option was offered for supper: lentil stew.

“It was really good, but eating lentil stew for three weeks got very tiring,” Duhamel said. “I’m going to need to be very organized when I go to the Olympics in PyeongChang.”

Now, Duhamel has learned to pack her suitcase with her favorite foods when heading to a place where vegan options could be limited. 

She’s also learned how to deal with the vitriol that comes on social media, not necessarily due to her veganism, but her success. 

“The better we got, the more haters we got as we rose in the rankings,” Duhamel said of her partnership with Radford. “Online bullying is kind of going through a bad phase right now, not just with athletes but school kids as well. 

“[U.S. figure skater] Ashley Wagner goes through so much of that. I guess it’s part of being in the public eye, but people must be so unhappy with themselves if they have to put others down.

“You don’t want to respond because you’re encouraging and feeding it, but at the same time I want to respond to say, ‘We hear you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ There are times to respond and times to just let it slide.”

Duhamel has also used her social media presence to advocate against animal cruelty, recently joining the cause to try to end dog-meat farming in Korea through the Canadian-based organization Free Korean Dogs. This February, after an Olympic test event in PyeongChang, Duhamel flew home with two rescue dogs and adopted one of them, a dachshund named Mootae.

But Mootae will have to stay home without Duhamel this Thursday, when the skater takes her first official step on the road to South Korea by joining other winter sport athletes at the Canadian Olympic camp in Calgary. There, she hopes to see what other athletes are doing to reach their potential next winter.

In 2014, Duhamel’s silver medal came in the new figure skating team event. But in the pairs competition, she and Radford finished an underwhelming seventh. Now, the duo are determined to remedy that, but not necessarily by zeroing in on the win. 

“We want that amazing Olympic experience,” she said of PyeongChang. “That’s what’s been driving us. At the end of the day, if we know we skated great and are proud of ourselves, the result doesn’t matter as much. 

“We didn’t keep skating after Sochi to win an Olympic gold medal, we kept skating to go to the Olympics and be the best we can be because we felt that was missing at our last experience,” Duhamel said. “For us, any color medal will be as good as gold.”

The past season was, in Duhamel’s words, “a bit of a disappointment.” It culminated with Radford’s back injury that hampered their performance at the World Championship in March in Helsinki, where the defending champs settled for seventh place. 

Feeling that they had fallen off the wave that kept them on top the previous two years, Duhamel and Radford decided they had to make changes for the 2018 Olympic campaign. This season, they started working with British ice dancer John Kerr for program choreography and will consult during the season with a few different coaches. They also decided to resurrect a revamped version of their popular Muse long program from 2015, with which they won the sport’s triple crown: the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and Worlds. 

“There’s not a day to waste this year. We’re not planning on just peaking for the Olympics. We want to be at our best at every competition. We can’t afford a bad competition,” Duhamel said.

“Of course, things can happen and we can’t be perfect, but we can still be great.”

Follow the twists and turns on Duhamel ’s road to PyeongChang here.

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