Skater Seguin's book details career-ending concussions, toxic relationship with coach

Julianne Seguin has spent a good chunk of the past few years "lying on my bed, staring at the wall" in her family's Montreal home.

She's listened to podcasts or audio books, and has had brief conversations with friends, but lingering symptoms from a series of concussions has limited her ability to do much more than that.

The 25-year-old Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were a young Canadian pairs figure skating team on the rise. They won the 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final, silver at the 2015 world junior championships, and were the 2016 Skate America champions.

But they split as a team a few months after finishing ninth at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Seguin had pushed through the Olympic season, despite concussion symptoms including nausea, blurred vision and dizziness.

She also had a toxic relationship, she said, with her longtime coach Josee Picard. Seguin chronicles her tough journey in her recently launched book "Une Medaille a Toux Prix" — or A Medal at all Costs.

"I'm getting better, it's been a tough few years, the process is very long and hard," Seguin said.

The 25-year-old said the first concussion was "kind of stupid," a fluke accident at a family gathering on Christmas Eve of 2016. She took an inadvertent hit to the forehead from an uncle. She suffered two more confirmed concussions, in April and July of 2017, while skating. She believes there might have been two or three others.

Seguin said she wasn't "perfect" at communicating her symptoms, and was keen to push through them to compete at the Olympics. But she said her complaints of symptoms also weren't well-received by Picard, who declined a request for an interview from The Canadian Press.

"I felt like every time I was saying that I had nausea, she was like, ‘Oh god, how can we train?’" Seguin said in a recent interview.

Unable to train properly, Seguin began to gain weight. Picard had always demanded she keep her weight between 97 and 102 pounds. Seguin said the coach had made derogatory comments about her body for years.

"(Picard) was not happy with that, she was always saying that I was not caring about Charlie's back, that maybe I would hurt Charlie's back, or he could get injured because I was putting on weight," she said. "I was trying to (use the comments) to fuel me, but at the end, I just couldn't take it anymore.

"I thought 'You know what? It's been 10 years of you saying that to me.' Like I'm dying right now. I (guess) I should have been perfect."

Picard also declined to be interviewed for the book, which was co-written by journalist Marie-Christine Noel.

It was Bilodeau's idea to end their skating partnership in 2018.

"He felt that Josee and I didn't have a relationship that was healthy … and he said, 'I think you have to go home, get healthier, heal from everything.'

"At first, I didn't understand it, I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing? We were fantastic. We went to the Olympics.' Today, I'm like, thank you Charlie for doing that. It was hard for both of us, but now I'm getting healthier and better."

Seguin, who started skating at age six, lives at home with her dad Yves and mom Nathalie. They manage her Facebook and Instagram accounts since she still suffers from nausea when she looks at screens. But she's started cooking again. She can drive for about 20 minutes. She's started coaching two hours a day.

"I want to coach and be part of the change (in figure skating)," she said.

Seguin said the book has been well-received. Skaters have reached out to shared their own experiences.

"A lot of skaters are writing to me like, ‘Oh, I'm feeling the same way as you did,'" she said. "I don't have anybody saying that I shouldn't have done the book, it's all positive. We all want to (see) a change, but nobody says it, you know? So, I had to go in front of everybody and say, 'Whoa, stop. We have to change something.'"

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Skate Canada said that it has concussion protocol that includes recognition, diagnosis and management of athletes, and that over the course of Seguin's career "Skate Canada provided medical assistance and guidance in creating a return-to-sport strategy after her injuries and to determine when she would be able to return to sport."

Skate Canada also released a set of Body Positive Guidelines in 2020, to set boundaries on what is acceptable language and behaviour for coaches, parents and officials when working with athletes, no matter the age or level. The national sport organization has held training sessions on the topic, including at the recent high performance camp in Mississauga, Ont.

"Julianne Seguin has been a valued member of our national team program and member of the skating community," the statement said. "Skate Canada is committed to athlete health, performance and well-being, and will continue to work to incorporate that philosophy into all that we do."

Seguin's book comes amid what feels like a watershed moment for safe sport in Canada. Hundreds of athletes have come forward this year to publicly report issues of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, which prompted the federal government's standing committee on the Status of Women to unanimously pass a motion on Monday to undertake a study on the safety of women and girls in sport.

Seguin said there's no telling when her concussion symptoms might disappear altogether. But she said she's proud to have spoken about her experiences, and said she still loves the sport.

"It was hard on me, but I realized I did a lot of things with an injury, like whoa, I was very good, and I'm proud of myself too," she said. "There's a lot of things that I would change it if I would do it again, but even though all of that happened, it's a really beautiful sport.

"But how many athletes are we going to lose like that? That's the question."

Seguin's book is currently only available in French.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press