If you aren’t watching closely, it’s easy to miss the poignant, split-second tribute to the girl who used to fill what is now an empty spot in their line.
As the Riverview intermediate team steps on to the ice at the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships, each girl gently touches a pair of size 7 skates tucked safely under the arm of coach Janna MacLellan.
What follows is a song for Elizabeth.
It’s been eight heart-wrenching months since that July night when 15-year-old Elizabeth Landers lost her life in an ATV accident just steps from her home in Quispamsis, NB. The tragedy brought the synchro communities to its knees in New Brunswick and Edmonton, where Elizabeth skated until her family moved east two years ago.
In this season of heartache, the Riverview program, every movement from start to finish, is choreographed for the young shining light taken without warning. Wearing black costumes adorned with lime green accents – Elizabeth’s favourite colour – the team performs its moving tribute to Aerosmith’s Dream On.
“This is their way of grieving and coping,” says Suzanne Landers, Elizabeth’s mother, as tears well up in her eyes. She stops to compose herself before continuing.
“It’s everything – the colours, the words, the theme, what they are doing and how they are doing it. Every movement is for Elizabeth. It’s very touching.
Mere seconds after qualifying for the national championships at the Atlantic regionals, the team called Landers on speakerphone and asked her to join them at nationals.
They didn’t have to ask twice and Landers, her heart still heavy in this most trying of years, is at the national championships, cheering on the team her daughter lived for.
““I had to be here,” adds Landers, a devoted supporter of synchronized skating. “This week, I feel closer to Elizabeth. It’s almost like she is here with us.”
In Calgary, Suzanne is sharing a hotel room with Hailey Cassidy, her daughter’s teammate and closest friend. This week, these moments, are for them to remember, and celebrate, Elizabeth’s life.
“It was comforting to know that so many people want to hear her story through the program,” says Cassidy. “This isn’t about us; it’s about her. This is Elizabeth’s story.”
This weekend, as they told that story at the national championships, the entire WinSport Arena was on their feet before Riverview stepped on to the ice for their two programs. They gave another standing ovation as the team was introduced, and rose as one yet again when the emotional, powerful program ended.
“My healing is through skating,” says Landers. “But now I know that I have to share Elizabeth with others, because they are hurting as well. Synchro is a family, and I feel all the love and support in New Brunswick, in Edmonton, across the country. I am extremely grateful, and I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.”
“She was such a wonderful girl, and the loss of Elizabeth devastated a lot of us,” says Lisa Bonderove of the Skate Canada Alberta/NWT/Nunavut Section.
“She will be missed by a lot of people, but this is a week to remember Elizabeth and celebrate her life.”
At the regional championships in Newfoundland earlier this winter, the signs seemed to be everywhere. The team passed by Elizabeth Park. The arena was painted green. In their dressing room, they found a plastic green hand clapper, left behind by someone else. As the team was going on the ice, they noticed a green ribbon from a previous team had fallen to the ground. Following their program, there was another as the team stepped into the Kiss and Cry.
Elizabeth is not here, but she is everywhere.
Her name remains on the team roster. Following their win at the Atlantic Championships, in yet another emotional moment, the team accepted a medal for Elizabeth. The first thing they did was hand the medal to Suzanne.
This week, the entire Canadian synchro family is rallying around Suzanne Landers and the team from the small community in New Brunswick.
“Having Suzanne with us gives us strength and reminds us why we are doing this,” says MacLellan.
“It’s helping our girls, but it so much more than that. This was Elizabeth’s story, and we want to tell it, and tell her, ‘we love you, and we miss you.’”
This week, green has never been more golden.