The Netherlands’ Short Track Speed Skaters brought their teammate Lara van Ruijven, who tragically passed away last year, with them on the ice as competition resumed at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Gdansk, Poland.
Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) and Dylan Hoogerwerf (NED) with a panther heart on their helmets in memory of Lara van Ruijven (NED) at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)
As Olympic 1000m gold medalist Suzanne Schulting sealed her third consecutive European overall title with the biggest margin of 47 points, she was wearing the symbol of a heart for her friend on her sleeve. Van Ruijven fell ill during a training camp in France last summer and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder before passing away on July 10, shocking the world of Short Track Speed Skating.
A panther heart on the sleeve of a Short Track Speed Skating racing suit in memory of Lara van Ruijven (NED) at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)
“The feeling (of) getting on the ice without Lara is of course hard. We all really miss her. It’s super sad that she’s not here anymore,” said Schulting, 23.
“It’s like a nightmare. It’s awful. We really miss her but we have to do our best and we’ve got a heart on our suits so when we go on the ice she’s always with us.
“We know she’s there but sadly enough not (physically) on the ice anymore.”
Apart from the loss of van Ruijven, it has been challenging to prepare for a comeback to Short Track Speed Skating with all the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mentally, in the beginning it was quite hard because you set a goal and the first goal is of course the World Cup and then there are no World Cups anymore,” Schulting said.
“For me I was super happy to be able to do long track competitions and to focus on all those national long track events, which went quite well.
“I was still super busy so to me it feels like a normal season and I’m happy with that but of course I missed the World Cups.”
Also chasing podium spots in the Polish port city is Schulting’s teammate Itzhak de Laat, 26, who said the tough year has taught him not to take anything for granted.
“In the summer we unfortunately lost Lara, our team member. That was weird. You don’t expect something like that to happen,” de Laat said.
“With the virus and not being able to train normally, OK, that’s something that you can anticipate, but losing someone in that way was really weird. That also made me aware, how special it is what I’m doing, that health is not for granted.”