Shawn Sawyer: Leaving on His Own Terms

Brett Barden
Capturing the silver medal at the 2011 Canadian Championships was the highlight of Shawn Sawyer's competitive career.

In Shawn Sawyer’s mind, the finish line was firmly in place, and everything played out exactly the way a skating retirement should.

“A thought? Oh, it was a done deal,” the 26-year-old from Edmundston, N.B. said when asked how serious he was about hanging up his skates some 15 months ago. “I had a little farewell party at the rink. I was still skating and doing shows, but I wasn’t training like the other years.”

The way Sawyer figured, for the longest time, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games would be his competitive swan song. Either he’d bow out on the biggest stage of them all as a member of the Canadian team or, failing that, he would walk away from the sport content with everything he had accomplished.

But as the summer months rolled around, something inside Sawyer began to question the finality of it all.

“I had this ‘what if?’ thought rolling around in my head and I didn’t want to have that question lurking in my mind for the next 10 years,” he said. “So I thought, just go for it and even if it doesn’t work, at least you won’t have that factor to deal with. I didn’t want to have any regrets, and I believed I still had not shown everything I could do in competitions.”

Sawyer said he would consider it all worth the effort for one moment of brilliance. That moment arrived last January, when he landed on the second step of the podium at the national championships — his highest placement ever in the senior men’s event. But it was the performance level that renewed the bounce in his step.

“By far, it’s the best competition I’ve ever done in my life,” Sawyer said. “The practices, the warm-ups ... the overall feeling of nationals this year was unreal. I savored every moment of it. Sometimes in the past, I’ve competed and was happy when it was over. But I remember every second, every interview. I remember everything from that event.”

Two months later Sawyer still carried a sense of astonishment about that magical weekend.

“I still can’t believe that everything worked out the way I dreamed it would,” he said. “The thing that I’m most happy about is that I proved to myself that it would work. I wasn’t sitting at home watching nationals, I was competing and doing what I came back to do.”

When the subject of retirement was raised Sawyer laughed. “It was set in my mind for a very long time that I was going to quit in 2010,” he admitted. “Part of me was happy that I was all done, but the other part of me just knew that I still had something left and I had something to prove to everybody and to myself.

“I knew that when I made the decision to quit, it was really going to come from inside me. I would decide when it happened, not just go by a date on the calendar.”

Sawyer admitted he was leaning in the direction of show life after the 2011 Worlds. In late March, following the cancellation of the event in Japan, he made that decision and announced he was withdrawing from the World team to perform on the Canadian Stars on Ice tour.

‘When the opportunity to perform on Stars on Ice came up, I had to make a choice between competing at Worlds and stepping into my professional career,” Sawyer said. “I really love to perform and joining the tour was what I really wanted to do.”

Originally published in June 2011