Despite missing out on the floor exercise final at the Olympics in August, 2004 Olympic floor champion Kyle Shewfelt of Canada said 2008 marked the "pinnacle of success" after his recovery from serious leg injuries.
Shewfelt's very participation in Beijing was an accomplishment. He injured both legs during an Aug. 27, 2007, training session at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. After landing stiff-legged on a tumbling element, he suffered displaced fractures on both legs, as well as a chipped bone on his left knee and a stretched ligament. Shewfelt, Canada's first Olympic gold medalist in artistic gymnastics, underwent surgery two weeks later.
Following an intense period of rehabilitation, Shewfelt was named to the Canadian team that competed in Beijing. He scored 15.525 on floor exercise in qualifications, missing the cut-off for the event final by .075.
The 26-year-old Shewfelt took Beijing in philosophical stride, however, as a success in its own right. In this IG Online interview, Shewfelt reflects on 2008 and projects towards the new year.
IG: Coming so close to the floor and team finals in Beijing, and based on your injury, would you consider your performances in Beijing more an achievement than a disappointment, or some combination of the two?
KS: My Beijing experience was an absolute achievement. I didn't win another Olympic medal, but I overcame the biggest obstacle of my career to be at the Games. I appreciated the opportunity to represent my country at my third Olympic Games and I was honored to be a part of such an incredible team. Throughout the process of coming back there were times when it felt like I wouldn't be ready in time. I told Edouard [Iarov], our national coach, that I didn't want to just be placed on the team because of what I have done in the past. I wanted to earn my spot. I believe that I pushed myself to my limit. It was a phenomenal feeling to compete, knowing that the process of getting there helped me grow as an athlete and person.
It was a little disappointing to come so close to finals, both team and event, but I am firm believer that you have to base your happiness on your performances and not on the outcomes. Everything happens for a reason. We all performed brilliantly. We can always look back and say what if. What if Brandon [O'Neill] hadn't been injured? What if we would have brought in our alternate? What if a couple landings were cleaner? But, you know what? You can't go back and change the past. There is absolutely no point in looking back and wishing "What if?" "What is" is reality, and I choose to see the positives and successes rather than the negatives and disappointments.
The routine that I performed on floor was the most difficult routine that I have ever done. It was an eye-opening experience for me to realize that I could actually be better than I was before, even after going through such a traumatic injury. It just goes to show you how powerful the human spirit is.
IG: You seemed very positive after the competition in Beijing. How have you been able to reconcile your Olympic experience in the months since the Games?
KS: I was super-positive after the competition in Beijing because I realized very quickly that I had done my best. It's a pretty satisfying feeling to look back and have no regrets.
It was funny in the morning after our competition. I was walking around the Olympic Village and it felt like I was attending my own funeral. Everyone on the Canadian Olympic team was giving me sympathetic looks and the "I'm so sorry" eyes. I didn't feel bad, though. I was happy. I owed it to myself to smile. I didn't bust my butt every minute for the past 11 months to be there and mope around because I didn't make finals. I was choosing to be happy. But, after experiencing everyone's reactions, I felt like maybe I did do something wrong - like I did let my country down. So, in all honesty, I did have a few hours where I felt like a loser and like I failed. But then I started really thinking about it and decided that this was not a failure. This was the pinnacle of success. Medals do not define success. Personal achievement does.
It was a little bit difficult coming home and not having a medal because the craziness was not anywhere near the same level as it was in 2004. But I was OK with it. I needed some time to reconnect with my family and friends and to get perspective on the whole experience. We live in a very superficial world, and in the months following an Olympic Games, a lot of the attention is given to the athletes with the hardware. I realize that. I benefited from it in 2004. But I believe I am wiser now, and after returning home from Beijing without a medal, but with a tremendous personal victory, I am seeing that the latter holds more value.
I think it takes time to come to terms with an Olympic experience, whether good or bad, because you turn off your life for the goal and then you have a lot of rebuilding to do when you get home. It's super emotional and sometimes you just need to remove yourself from everything "Olympic" for awhile because it's all you have thought of and known for a year leading up. I feel that now, four months after Beijing, I am almost able to look back on the experience and see it for what it was. I feel far enough removed that I have a greater perspective.
IG: How close to 100 percent "repaired" are you?
KS: I actually had surgery on Nov. 6 to remove the plate and four screws from my left leg. It was really starting to bother me, and I just didn't want to have metal in my legs if I didn't have to. I was taking a nice dose of anti-inflammatory during the Olympics, but I stopped taking it after the Games and noticed that my leg hurt a lot more. I always had a burning sensation in my leg because the plate was right on the attachment of the hamstring, but I knew that I would have to suck it up before the Games because recovering from another surgery wasn't an option.
I met with my surgeon shortly after coming home from Beijing, and he said that it would be safe to take out the hardware because the bone was totally healed. So I opted to do the surgery, and the result has been awesome. I don't have the burning sensation anymore and I am a lot more comfortable, especially when it's cold out! I still have the screw in my right knee, but it doesn't bother me, so I will keep it in there. Post-surgery is not a fun experience and I will avoid it if I can!
I don't think my legs will ever be quite the same as they were before the accident. It's a lot harder to put on muscle mass, and my knees are pretty sensitive to touch. I like having the scars, though, because they constantly remind me to never take anything for granted.
IG: What are some of the targets you have set for yourself, in and out of the gym, for 2009?
KS: I want 2009 to be a year filled with love, success, fun, interaction, gratitude, growth, failure, new experiences and genuine happiness. Failure probably doesn't seem like it fits in there, but I believe that failure is the best way to learn. I want to embrace every possibility that 2009 presents. I have a feeling it's going to be an incredible year!
IG: As 2008 comes to a close, how much longer do you see yourself doing gymnastics?
KS: That's a hard question for me to answer. I see myself being involved in gymnastics forever, but I am taking it day by day when it comes to the actual "doing gymnastics" part. Right now, I am trying to be diligent in my recovery from surgery and take my time setting new gymnastic goals. I want them to be heartfelt, or they aren't worth pursuing.
IG: Outside of training, what are some of the promotional and professional activities you've done since Beijing?
KS: I have done a bunch of appearances and talks around the country promoting sport and the Olympics. I am really trying to get the point across that outcomes do not define us — it's our journeys that do. The lessons we learn, the people we meet, the obstacles we overcome and the experiences we have leading up to a moment are what make us who we are. We don't instantly become a good person because we win an Olympic gold medal. Some of the best and most inspiring athletes I have ever met will never win Olympic gold, but they are incredible examples and leaders to emulate.
IG: How and where do you plan to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays?
KS: I plan on spending the holidays in Calgary with my family and friends. I don't have any crazy plans — just enjoying the wonderful company and living in the moment. 'Tis the season to be jolly, and I have already been party-hopping like a mad man. I love the spirit of Christmas. It's a very special time of year and I have always been very fortunate to get to spend it with the people I love.
IG Online Related Features
Canada Announces Men's Olympic Team; Shewfelt Back for Beijing (July 8, 1008)
Shewfelt Skips Canadian Championships, Looks to Beijing (June 2, 2008)
Interview: Kyle Shewfelt (October 9, 2007)
Shewfelt Out of Worlds (August 28, 2007)
Kyle Shewfelt is featured in the following issues of International Gymnast magazine
"Production Values," "Shewfelt's Role Both Familiar and Foreign" - features on Shewfelt's co-starring role in the film "White Palms" (November 2006)
"My Year After Athens" - Shewfelt memoirs (August/September 2005)
2004 Olympic Games Special Issue - includes Shewfelt (October 2004)
"The Style of Kyle" - profile (November 2003)
Quick Chat: Kyle Shewfelt - interview (November 2002)
"IG Profile: Kyle Shewfelt" (January 2001)
To subscribe to IG magazine or order back issues, click here.
External Link: KyleShewfelt.com