It started with a dream and a friendship that goes deeper than most can ever imagine.
I first met Linda, a former British Pairs Champion in the 1960s, about five years ago, when a mutual friend introduced us. We hit it off immediately and have been there for each other since.
What seemed an impossible dream first took root over a weekend in December 2015 when I went to visit Linda following a personal tragedy. She had lost her dear husband David, while she herself was fighting an illness that was threatening to steal her own life. The void in her heart seemed impassable. We had to find something to fight for, something to look forward to each week. Something to fill that gap of sadness.
Linda had a little dream of getting back on the ice, but after 45 years, serious health issues and so much sadness, it seemed an impossible dream. Her life had changed so much since those happy skating days. I desperately wanted to do something, so persuaded our mutual friend, David Marzell, known as Twizzle to help me get Linda back onto the ice. As crazy as it seemed, I knew that just the feel of that ice under her feet, would make a difference.
Thus followed a fair amount of persuasion, Linda digging out some ancient skates and a long drive to Peterborough ice rink. Those tentative first steps were indeed humble as David and I carefully led her onto the ice. We were all tense, but the magic worked. Those special ice rink smells lifted her spirits and within 30 minutes Linda was ready to skate on her own. She was back on the ice the following day, trying out the Dance club, spinning joyously, chatting, and being alive again!
Since then she has been skating almost every week for as long as she can manage. It’s her special time. She has skated in Brighton, catching up with friends from her ‘sporting’ days and skates with me in Guildford whenever she can. Sadly her illness had plans of its own. Six monthly chemotherapy, endless blood tests and other treatments every other week certainly tests the spirit, yet her spirit remains strong. She is truly incredible!
We are close, and share a bond both sadly sharing the experience of just what this awful illness is, and what it takes to keep it at least under control. But equally we share the passion and happiness that comes from being on the ice. Twizzle, is our friend and keenest supporter, I’ll never forget his role in getting Linda back to the ice.
The idea of this skating project, 'You’ll never walk alone' started with what was for me a really sad event. Without warning my pairs partner left skating in November 2018. We had already agreed to perform in the gala following the British Championships. I alerted the organisers, who were totally understanding of my predicament and suggested I skate alone and come up with something special.
Right away I knew. I will skate with Linda. Could anything be more special than that? I called Linda and after many tears we decided that we would do a number together. It seemed appropriate to skate to "You’ll never walk alone". That is our story, we are there for each other, besides it was one of David, Linda’s late husbands favourite songs. We needed just one more person to complete this story, David Marzell. After all without him, Linda’s return to the ice would still be just a dream. Being 150 miles apart was no obstacle. We rehearsed using whatever means we could without actually being together. My coach, Veronika Bogomolova, volunteered her time and put a very simple basic choreography together, I skated and she recorded it. Linda and David learned it via the video. Thank goodness for Skype, videos, phone calls and technology.
One weekend I travelled from Guildford to Peterborough to be with them and for a few days David and Linda came to me and we trained at Guildford. Veronika gave us all the time she could. She made so many changes to her schedule to help us! After that, just a week later we went live!
There is just one more thread to this story. Linda was part of a pair with Raymond Wilson. They represented Great Britain at three European Championships in 1967, 1968, 1969, the 1968 Olympics and 1969 World Championships. They were also 1970 World and British professional champions. It seemed only right that Raymond should join us.
Linda was tasked with persuading Raymond to get on the ice at the end of our skate. I told one of Raymond's old skating students (Tina Pretorius) about the project and she set out to find some of his former pupils who were spread far and wide via an online group called "You'll never walk alone”. She found some who were in the country and near enough to come and join in the celebration. They were all sworn to secrecy, as this was to be a big surprise. Raymond had no idea about all this scheming behind his back. Tina told me that she and the skaters had had a fair amount of ducking and diving on the day as at one point she found herself right behind him in the crowd and had to make a fast exit. It worked and their arrival on the ice as soon as he stepped on the carpet was a total surprise.
On the day, it all came together. We showed how much we love our sport and that no illnesses or age can ever stop us doing what we love. We held hands; we took a deep breath and walked onto that ice.
"You’ll never walk alone" will no doubt be remembered by many, the audience stood up. They cried. They cheered. They lived and loved every moment together with us. We never walked alone. We told our story and after 50 years we brought the Best of British back, our former Olympians, Linda Bernard and Raymond Wilson.
By Nadia Colbourne