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Suburban Chicago native chases Olympic gold again after 16+ year retirement

Glenview native chasing Olympic gold again after 16+year retirement
Glenview native chasing Olympic gold again after 16+year retirement 05:49

CHICAGO (CBS) — At 16 years old, Deanna Stellato-Dudek was the best junior skater in the world, but despite a devastating injury that doctors warned would recur, she never fully forgot her Olympic dream. 

"I had a lot of good standings in the junior division. The next year is when I was going to move up and go into the senior division," Stellato-Dudek said. 

"It was about a year before the Olympic trials in 2002, so I was going to miss those Olympic trials if I couldn't train the way I wanted to, so I thought, well, I guess I should just forget it and move on, so that's what I did."

How devastating was that? Extremely. 

"I happened to be at a work retreat. We were doing a fun exercise. Everyone had a note card on the table. When it got to your turn, you raise up the notecard and you read what was on it. My notecard said, what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail. And I just immediately blurted out, without thought, 'Oh, I'd win an Olympic gold medal.' And then I remember sitting back in my chair and thinking, I can't believe I said that. I haven't even skated in, like, 16 or 17 years. I thought that dream was parked. I thought it was finished. I just thought if I said that without thought, it must be something deep down that I desire and really want," she said.

She asked her mother for her 16-year-old boots and blades and started to skate again. Did it feel like coming home? 

"Yes, definitely. I remember the first time I got on the ice and skated really fast across, and you feel the wind in your face, and there's just nothing like that feeling."

It wasn't just the feeling that came back but the muscle memory. Within three months, Stellato-Dudek was once again landing every triple jump. And while Stellato-Dudek got back on the ice for herself, she told herself this time, she wouldn't say no to anything offered to her. Including a suggestion from the U.S. Figure Skating director that she consider pairs. 

"I joke that I fell in love at first lift. I love being lifted. I love being thrown. I felt like it was always something I was meant to do, and I was asked when I was younger, but I always said no, so it's kind of funny how things come full circle, and that's what I'm doing now," she said.

Things came full circle again when, this March, at the age of 40, Stellato-Dudek found herself atop the podium. Once again, the best in the world and making history as the oldest woman ever to win a figure skating world championship in any discipline. 

"It's nothing that I ever set out to do. I just wanted to come back and skate for myself. I just wanted to be able to be 80 years old and not have any regrets that I didn't try that one more time when I said that at that work retreat. I really should've tried. I didn't want to have those regrets, but I never really thought about breaking any type of age barrier, records, or anything like that. But I'm so proud to have been able to do that," Stellato-Dudek said. "I feel like I am someone who wants to show the millennials of my generation that if you have a dream or something else in your life you want to pursue, whether it's a sport or a degree or a different job or side hustle, that you absolutely can do it."

Stellato-Dudek is far from done. Her sights are still set on Olympic gold. And as the reigning world champ, her lifelong dream has never been more within reach. 

"I envision myself standing atop the podium and having the peripheral vision of having the other two spots being below me and to the right and to the left. And receiving my medal when you bend down. It's important to visualize those things. And I will also visualize receiving my passport," she said.

She currently represents Canada with her Canadian partner, Maxime. Stellato-Dudek has permanent residency but has to have full citizenship to be able to represent Canada at the Milan Olympics. She said there is precedent for her being able to get her passport in time, but she says she won't be stress-free until she does. 

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