Gold, who entered treatment for her mental health and an eating disorder in 2017, is competing again and focused on returning to the elite level

By Adam Carlson
March 04, 2019 02:22 PM
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Gracie Gold is running again.

It may seem like a small thing, but it has a big meaning: For so long Gold, a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist in figure skating, couldn’t bring herself to run at all — one of the many joys in her life that started to dim around 2016.

It was that April when Gold, fresh from her second national championship, unexpectedly blew her shot at the world championship in Boston, falling from first to fourth in the second half of the competition.

“For me I was like, ‘Okay, then I might as well have not competed. I might as well just have been last, because this is the worst,’ ” Gold recalls.

She had expected perfection of herself on the ice and failed to deliver — the wrong loss at exactly the wrong time.

“We kind of described that situation as a game of Jenga,” says her twin sister, Carly, who grew up skating with Gracie but retired in 2016.

“Worlds was when you just pulled out the wrong piece,” Carly says, “and the entire thing kind of came crumbling down.”

Looking back, Gracie can see where she started to go astray.

“After that worlds, I should have taken a breath. I shouldn’t have even tried to compete that fall. I should have really let myself process,” she says. “But instead,” she continues, “I just was avoiding everything. So I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, but my mind and spirit weren’t into it.”

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She may have lost her will but — at first — she still had a routine of training and skating to maintain: “I had this schedule that I had down to a T,” Gracie says.

Then she lost that.

“Every month, I would stop doing — like I stopped doing hot yoga, then I stopped working out as much. Then my food intake was all over the place,” she says, referring to a compulsive relationship with her diet that predated her competitive struggles and which began to toxically interact with her mounting depression.

“The skating didn’t have any spark. It didn’t have any joy to it,” says her then-coach Frank Carroll, who had been with her at her Olympic win in Sochi, Russia.

Gracie uses that same word: “spark” — “the kind of thing, that need that pulls you into the rink every day, makes you play your music again, makes you do the extreme things that are required to be an elite athlete,” Gracie says. “I just didn’t have that anymore. … My whole existence was very, ‘Meh, eh, whatever.’ ”

Gracie Gold in December
HILARY SWIFT/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

Even her running stopped, after so many mornings spent jogging along the beach in Los Angeles’ South Bay. “I felt like I was doing everything right and I still messed up at worlds, I was like, ‘I’m done running. I’m done,’ ” she says. “‘It’s running’s fault that this is happening.’ ”

At the national championship in January 2017, Gracie was in even worse shape than in Boston and placed sixth. Not sure what else to do — “I didn’t know anyone that had struggled with the issues that I was feeling” — she split with Carroll and “fled” to Detroit from her home in the L.A. area, where she’d lived since 2013.

She hoped for a fresh start in the Midwest but instead found isolation. Without the structure of LA, “it just fell apart so quickly.”

Alone in her apartment Gracie slept and ate abnormally, often in darkness, and realized she understood why some people wanted to die (though she was “never was suicidal in the sense that I’d made a plan”).

She kept the full truth of her struggles a secret from everyone else.

“There wasn’t a word for it. … I didn’t know anyone that had been clinically depressed,” she says.

Loved ones saw Gracie’s spark had blown out, but she deflected to concerns with her appearance and significant weight gain. That was easier to talk about than what was really going on inside her head.

Sister Carly says now: “She was so desperate for help and didn’t know how to ask.”

Back from the Brink — and Back on the Ice

The truth finally came out at an elite training camp in August 2017 while Gracie was talking with a team doctor over a salad in a cooking class. She remembers “just chopping up sweet potato, letting her know the darkness that was in my life.”

Within days, Gracie announced she would cease skating and seek treatment for her mental health and an eating disorder. Then she vanished from the public eye, only returning to competition in November.

In recent weeks, Gracie has chosen to speak out about her last few years, how she’s healing and her future skating plans.

“I don’t think people realized how bad it was,” she says. But: “If I could help anyone, even one person in any way, then it’s all worth it, right?”

Already the reaction since she went public with her recovery, first in a New York Times piece in late January, has been “incredible,” she says.

“I was blown away by the amount of support that I got,” she says.

Gracie’s first competition back, in Russia in November, was a disappointment, but spectators didn’t see a loss. Afterward, she says someone tweeted her, “I haven’t left my apartment in three weeks, and I watched Gracie Gold do that and I went out to the store today.”

Carroll, who coached Gracie in the Olympics, isn’t counting out a comeback: “If she’s totally resolved to do it. … I think she can do it.”

Says a figure skating source: “Everyone’s rooting for her.”

Gracie’s goal is absolutely to be back at the elite level, she says, and her day-to-day usually includes a morning and afternoon workout and one or two sessions on the ice. She is focusing on dry land training at the moment (which is exactly what it sounds like). She also coaches part time.

Gracie Gold skating in October 2014
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“She didn’t want to leave skating on the note that she left it,” Carly says. “She wanted to come back and say, ‘Hey, I tried, I didn’t leave any stone unturned.’ ”

“I can always be a full-time coach. I can always go back to college,” Gracie says. “But I can’t always try to be an elite skater again.”

She knows there are challenges ahead. She’s ready to face them.

“The three of them [Gracie’s new coaching team] absolutely believe in me 100 percent,” she says. “So they said, ‘You will be back, but it needs to be on our own timeframe.’ ”

She’s looking at a July competition at her home rink in the Philadelphia area, where she relocated last year after finishing treatment in Arizona.

“I’ve just fallen more and more in love with being alive again,” she says. “Especially being an athlete again and being a skater again.”