Speedskater with heart disorder achieves Olympic success
Published Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:49PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 4, 2013 2:56PM MST
As a young boy in Regina, Justin Warsylewicz was glued to his television during the broadcast of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games from Lillehammer, Norway, and he fell in love with the sport of speed skating.
Following nearly a decade of commitment to the sport, Justin became the Canadian all-around long track men's champion at the age of 18.
His on-ice success seemed to be without limit until, in the fall of 2004, Justin was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition where an abnormal electrical circuit in the heart can lead to an extremely rapid heartbeat.
The diagnosis was a huge blow to the speedskater’s Olympic goals as he received the news a year and a half before the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” says Justin. “I had just come off a great breakout year for me in skating.”
“Am I ever going to be able to skate again?”
Justin had moved to Calgary to train at the Olympic Oval and his training facility was conveniently located near the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta.
Dr. Katherine Kavanagh accepted the challenge of getting Justin back on track for the Turin games under the condition it would not jeopardize the skater’s health.
“We had to consider how serious this was for Justin,” said Dr. Kavanagh. “His life was really more important than the Oympics to us but we wanted him to reach his dreams if at all possible.”
The skater’s dreams were possible and in February of 2006, Justin and his teammates claimed silver in the men's team pursuit.
Dr. Kavanagh is continually inspired by the skater’s grit and perseverance in the face of medical questions surrounding how his irregular heartbeat would impact his life.
“Is he going to live? Is he going to be a cardiac cripple for the rest of his life or can he pursue his dreams?,” Dr. Kavanagh recollects the uncertainty of 2004. “To know that he could be returned to a normal life and we could give him a cure, that is very inspiring.
“To watch him achieve those dreams, I watched that competition, is just fantastic.”
Justin says he remains inspired by the people at the Libin institute who helped him realize his dreams.
“I owe a lot to the Libin institute,” says Justin. “They're great doctors, great team doctors with the speed skating team as well, and they gave me a ton of confidence.”
For his tenacity and unwillingness to give up his pursuit of his dreams, Justin Warsylewicz is this week’s Inspiring Albertan.
With files from CTV's Darrel Janz