She counts it among her biggest emotional assets and has a blueprint of it on her basement wall, yet Elizabeth Manley had never visited the large park named after her in Ottawa South – until now.
The Canadian figure skater faced a crowd of excited kids at her namesake park on Blohm Drive Aug. 11, where she mingled with young children who had little idea of what she’s done and their parents who well remembered her come-from-behind silver medal win at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
Manley was born in Trenton and moved to Ottawa when she was nine. Coming from a poor family, she urged kids to follow their dreams no matter the obstacles in their path.
“If there’s something that you really love to do and you aspire to do, and you want to be the best at something, don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. I was not supposed to do what I did,” she told the crowd. “I was just this little girl from Ottawa and I was competing against girls from East Germany and the United States and Russia and all these other huge countries, and no one ever thought that little Liz Manley from Gloucester was going to ever win a medal.”
But she did, coming from behind with a show-stopping program that critics at the time could not have predicted. She was made a member of the Order of Canada for her efforts.
Manley attributes her success to the support of her community.
“The City of Ottawa was there for me and they supported me in making my dreams come true. They gave me ice time when I needed ice time, and I skated out of 12 arenas. I went everywhere, I was a true OC Transpo girl,” she laughed. “I proved everybody wrong and I won that medal. I’m a perfect example that you can do it.”
Now an Orleans resident, Manley hopes her park near Conroy and Hunt Club roads will help neighbourhood kids be the best they can be.
“I’m hoping to have the resources available for the kids to keep them active, to keep them occupied. When I skated it was something for me to focus on and to enjoy, and it was a way for me to interact with kids my own age,” she said. “That’s what’s so great about a park like this, is it gives them an opportunity to interact with kids their own age under a supervised situation. It’s very healthy, not only physically but mentally and emotionally.”
Mayor Jim Watson was also on hand to congratulate Manley for her good works, which have focused on community charities including the Alzheimer Society of Canada in recent years.
Manley has been off the ice for nearly four years as she cared for her ailing parents, but has plans to participate in a “legendary women” figure skating show at Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City come December.
“I’m not going to be doing everything that I was doing, but to just be able to go out there and say I did it, it’ll probably be my last time. I want to make a go of it,” she said.