A knee injury kept Short Track Speed Skater Julie Letai (USA) side-lined until mid-October 2020, but Letai bounced back to compete in the Ladies’ Relay at the 2021 ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
Finishing seventh in the Relay with the American team, Letai said she was happy to be able to compete again. “It’s been a weird season and we had to adjust,” Letai said about the COVID-19 pandemic that stopped skaters around the world from training and competing.
“Actually I had an injury for a lot of the season, so it was a different season for me anyway. I guess I got kind of lucky that a lot of competitions were cancelled because I couldn’t have gone.”
The 20-year-old has been struggling with a knee injury for a long time and underwent knee surgery back in 2018, before returning to the ice in October the same year. “Last season I got tendonitis in my knee, which kind of progressed and got worse and worse,” she explained.
At the end of July 2020, Letai underwent another knee surgery and was then side-lined until mid-October. “I could return to the ice in October, so it’s been a pretty short season for me. But if it was going to happen [the surgery] anytime, it was good that it was this season.”
When Letai returned to the ice, she soon found out it wasn’t easy to come back to the level she had been skating at before. “It was really exciting getting on the ice at first and then it was kind of like balancing the excitement of being back and also the stress of not being at all where you want to be,” she laughed.
Finding that balance was one of the toughest things she had to do during the last couple of months. “There were a lot of days that were tough for me for sure. But I always believed there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I started shaping up a bit as we got closer to our Worlds trials and did better there, so that was a self-esteem boost. I started skating a lot better since.”
Although she only competed in the Relay at the recent ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, Letai was lucky to travel to Dordrecht, she said. “It was nice to have the opportunity, because there were a lot of times I wasn’t sure if I could do it.”
Competing at the world stage in Dordrecht gave her a boost, too. Just a couple of weeks after competing in the Netherlands, Letai went on to skate a new personal best [44,010] in the 500m at the US Championships. “It makes me excited to see what I can do next season with a real summer- and fall base, which I wasn’t able to have this year due to the knee surgery.”
“I like training the most about the sport, so it’s exciting to just have a good chunk of time where you can just focus on what to improve on,” she said.
Letai, who took up skating following her siblings, started her career with Figure Skating to later swap to Short Track Speed Skating. “When they started wanting me to do [Figure Skating] competitions, I really didn’t want to wear tutu’s and I had a lot more fun just skating around and trying to go as fast as I could.”
She moved to another club, twenty minutes from home, where she could just focus on what she wanted to: skating fast. “Short Track really started off as a hobby, to get out my energy and stuff. But there was a real community at my club, I found some of my best friends ever. So obviously I wanted to keep coming back.”
When Letai started to train more and more, she soon found out what she liked most about her sport: improvement. “That really has been a driving factor for me. I always strive to improve and want to get better in everything I do.”