Barbara Underhill: Journey of a Skating Legend

Barbara Underhill, the Olympic skating sensation, delves deep into her life, unveiling tales of triumph, resilience, and deep-rooted spirituality.

Skating Bliss Amidst Nature

At the break of dawn, Barbara Underhill gracefully steps out of her Mississauga home in Ontario, holding her cherished skates, and makes her way to her personal outdoor rink, beautifully located by the edge of a ravine and bordered by majestic maples. At 46, this ex-Olympian still dedicates countless hours to effortlessly glide on ice.

As Underhill relaxes in her comfortable living room, she nostalgically looks out at her custom-built rink through expansive picture windows. Recollecting her early days, she warmly says, “My love for skating ignited when I was merely five.” This burning passion catapulted her into a successful skating partnership with Paul Martini in the ’80s. This journey further expanded into a sports broadcasting profession, a role as an OHL skating mentor, and recently, a heart-touching reentry into the limelight via CBC-TV’s popular show, Battle of the Blades.

For Underhill, the rink was more than just a sheet of ice; it was a sanctuary. She passionately conveys, “Skating transcended the physical for me; it was a spiritual experience.” After a hiatus of 12 years, she made a return, initially fueled by a deep void and the desire for self-expression. Admitting her apprehensions about matching the prowess of younger contestants, she says, “I was consumed with self-doubt. But once on ice, the exhilaration was incomparable to my younger days.”

“My retirement deeply affected my five-year-old daughter, Samantha,” she confides. Today, Samantha is 17 and is one among Barbara’s five children. “She couldn’t bear to watch my performances without shedding tears. Their home bore witness to profound grief, especially after the heart-wrenching loss of Samantha’s twin, Stephanie. Barbara’s voice quivers, “Losing Stephanie was devastating. But on the ice, I found solace.” A friend once opined that Samantha’s tearful reactions might be because she missed witnessing the immense joy on her mother’s face while skating.

Triumph Over Grief

In the face of unparalleled tragedy, Barbara sought ways to mend her shattered soul. She recollects a poignant moment: “Once, I chanced upon a petite silver angel figurine. Clasping it brought an inexplicable sense of Stephanie’s presence.” This small token became her way of connecting with others in pain. “I would secretly place these angels in unsuspecting pockets, hoping to bring a glimmer of hope,” she recounts. Slowly, rays of happiness started seeping back into her life. Commemorating her retirement, Barbara discloses, “On that significant day, my husband and I laid the foundation for an initiative in honor of Stephanie.” This noble endeavor focuses on imparting essential water safety skills to children. Its primary aim is to combat drowning, tragically the second leading cause of young fatalities in Canada. Through this initiative, Barbara found a renewed purpose, affirming, “It was instrumental in rediscovering my true self.”