#thetimeisnow

More than just a medal With the help of her sister who is battling cancer, McMaster's Riley Allison won gold at the OUA figure skating championships in an event she had not competed in for two years

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In her own words, this year should have been “catastrophic.”

Riley Allison, a fourth-year kinesiology student at McMaster, won a gold medal at the OUA figure skating championships this year, in the same year her sister, Carley, was rediagnosed with cancer. Riley had not competed in the individual event since 2012, let alone medal.

“It’s the first year I’ve done it since my first year because [the coaches] have been giving it to rookies,” said Riley. She also said she skated “like crap” in the try-outs and two others outperformed her. In her first year, Riley finished sixth in the event.

So, what changed between now and then, where someone can go from sixth, to not competing, to champion? Well, a lot, actually. With the help and encouragement of her sister, Riley committed herself to the sport and emerged a champion.

Riley learned that the artistic score holds a lot more weight with the judges, as opposed to the technical score. To win at the university level, skaters develop their own artistic style as their career goes on, and that’s what Riley did.

“I talked to my coaches, and that’s what they think was the biggest difference; I became more of a presence on the ice, I took up more space, I looked like I was enjoying myself,” said the fourth-year Kin student. “I was a lot calmer, I tried to demand that the coaches would watch me.”

But she needed to improve her technical score a bit too.

To strengthen that aspect of her routines, Riley worked with Carley, her sister. Carley is battling clear-cell sarcoma, a disease that attacks the lungs and has been diagnosed in only eight people worldwide. She was diagnosed with the disease in February 2013. The cancer went into remission in July 2013 and she was generally healthy for the 2013-14 school year. But in August 2014, Carley was rediagnosed with the same disease. She still attended her first semester at Queen’s University and would compete in some figure skating events, but the medical condition forced Carley to come home in Toronto to receive medical treatment.

Riley drove between Hamilton and Toronto, supporting her family and her sister. She was also an athletic therapist with the McMaster swim and cross country teams. With all the responsibilities, Riley says it should have been her worst year of figure skating, but Carley would not let that happen.

“Carley is still really involved with skating, so I sent her score sheets after my first competition, I sent her videos and she is really technical, so she told me what to do to get better levels on my spins and this and that. She was pushing me to do it,” Riley said.

In her second fight with cancer, Carley is being treated from home with her weekly chemotherapy treatment only a five-minute drive away. This meant Riley went home on Thursday nights and the sisters spend the weekend working together on getting better (in between their marathons of “Say Yes To The Dress”). That time provided extra motivation.

“Carley really wanted me to do it. Every time I stepped on the ice and was having a bad skate, I thought ‘Hey. I can at least skate. Carley is sitting on the couch right now and would be dying to do this,’” said Riley.

When a cancer diagnosis hits a family, priorities will change. Sport would probably fall low on the priority list, but the Allison family wanted Riley to keep skating.

“Everyone needs an outlet. My mom goes running in the morning for an hour, it’s just something you need to do to keep your sanity,” Riley said. “When I was enjoying the outlet, that’s all I was doing. That’s where all my focus was because everything other than skating – when I’m studying, when I’m at home – it’s ‘Carley, Carley, Carley.’ When I go skating, it’s this own little world.”

“I 100 pecent think that’s why I skated the best this year. When I was there, it’s all I was thinking about. I was just doing it. It was the one thing that was consistent and in my control.”

And now, Riley moves back into something she cannot control. Carley’s cancer spread to her arm and she recently had surgery to remove the mass. The disease is so rare, there are few treatments available for it and other options are in trial. Doctors have given a grim prognosis, saying Carley may have until the end of 2015. But the Allison family shows no signs of giving up. Riley notes that Carley is young, and the other people who battled clear-cell sarcoma were significantly older. Carley is a unique case within the rare disease.

This year was supposed to be catastrophic for Riley but it ended in triumph. Her gold medal shows that what is supposed to happen and what will happen are not always the same. As Carley continues to battle a disease she has already defeated before, let’s hope a similar story will unfold.

“I 100 percent think that’s why I skated the best this year. When I was there, it’s all I was thinking about. I was just doing it. It was the one thing that was consistent and in my control.”

And now, Riley moves back into something she cannot control. Carley’s cancer spread to her arm and she recently had surgery to remove the mass. The disease is so rare, there are few treatments available for it and other options are in trial. Doctors have given a grim prognosis, but the Allison family shows no signs of giving up. Riley notes that Carley is young, and the other people who battled clear-cell sarcoma were significantly older. Carley is a unique case within the rare disease.

This year was supposed to be catastrophic for Riley but it ended in triumph. Her gold medal shows that what is supposed to happen and what will happen are not always the same.

As Carley continues to battle a disease she has already defeated before, let’s hope a similar story will unfold.

Photo Credit: Aaron Springfield

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Author: Scott Hastie

Scott is the Editor in Chief for Volume 87 of the Silhouette.