It was the first time American snowboarder Amy Purdy and ice skater Meryl Davis had been able to sit in a room together and reflect on the last nine months.
Sochi, the training, the pressure, the whirlwind.
And when that was all said and done, partaking in a reality TV competition that draws 15 million viewers an episode for 10 weeks, turning both into household names in the United States.
They call it Dancing With The Stars, but for Purdy, a Sochi 2014 Paralympics bronze medallist in snowboard cross and Davis, a Sochi Olympic gold medallist in ice dancing, it was another step in their athletic journey, the first of many in a constant quest to find competitive balance in their lives following an Olympic//Paralympic quadrennial.
“I feel blessed to be able to go from Sochi to ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and now I’m on a speaking tour with Oprah,” Purdy said. “I’ve never could have imagined that this is what I’d be doing, but I’m so grateful for the platform to share not just my message, but the message of a lot of other Paralympians.”
Yes, we’re talking about that Oprah
Purdy is part of the infamous media mogul’s eight city “The Life You Want Weekend Tour” which recognises extraordinary people in communities across the country.
After competing against her step-for-step on national television, Davis isn’t the least bit surprised by that.
“In Dancing With The Stars, each person has a different journey,” Davis said of Purdy. “I think her determination and strength were what showed through on the show. Her journey both physically and emotionally was nothing short of impressive and I have so much respect for that and her.”
Charlie White, who also participated on the show after winning a gold medal with Davis in Sochi, believes it was Purdy's personality that stood out amongst the crowd.
“She just had such a positive energy,” White said. “You recognise that attitude as an athlete and how it gets you through those tough days. We really came to respect her because of that.”
Though she ultimately finished as the runner-up to Davis, the 34 year-old from Nevada was thrilled to make the final three, which also included actress Candace Cameron Bure.
“Derek (Hough) and I experienced every dance. We experienced every show. The only thing we didn’t experience was bringing home the trophy,” Purdy said. “But we hit every goal we wanted to and therefore, we won. I was thankful to make it to the end. That was important to me.”
Getting used to be ‘judged’
One could argue that Davis was supposed to win a dance competition between ‘celebrity’ contestants. She already knew how to dance on a quarter-inch blade of stainless steel and had off-ice training few experience until they walk into a dance studio for the first time.
And as a figure skater, Davis was used to being judged for her performance, something that other competitors, including Purdy, had to get used to.
“It was something that maybe I was able to enjoy because it wasn’t such a foreign concept to me,” Davis said. “But seeing other people find it challenging at the beginning and start to enjoy it at the end was special. Seeing them finish their performance and embracing it at the end was really special.”
As Purdy quickly learned, the dance floor isn’t as black and white as a snowboard cross course.
“In my sport, it is about who comes across the finish line first,” Purdy said. “There’s no judgement. You judge yourself more than everything … You were so excited about what you did and then it had to fly with the judges. I just tried to look at their comments and critiques as something I could bring back and just try to be better next week.”
Femininity vs athleticism – does it have to be a competition?
Though competitors in rumba, salsa and the tango, Purdy and Davis were able to “hang out” on a different level this week. They were together thanks to the Women’s Sports Foundation, which puts together an annual salute honoring the best female athletes in the country. With the chaos of their Sochi success behind them, both had the opportunity to put it all in perspective.
“We’re both experiencing the same thing. It’s such a high. There’s so much pressure. There’s so much exhilaration for a certain period of time and it just ends,” Purdy said.
“I think we learned strength in a very different capacity,” Davis said. “We both talked about embracing femininity in a different way. I think, as athletes, we often think of femininity stereotypically as a weakness and I think Dancing With The Stars really taught us to embrace femininity as a strength and an asset, which is a really beautiful thing.”
The next challenge for Purdy could be the 2015 IPC Para Snowboard World Championships which take place in La Molina, Spain, from 23-28 February, the first major gathering of snowboarders since Sochi 2014.