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Olympic prep keeps Duhamel, Radford from family

Two-time Canadian pairs champions reminisce on holidays past
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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have prioritized training over holiday traditions. -Getty Images

With Christmas falling in the middle of the week and the senior events at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships taking place the first full week of January, two-time Canadian pairs champions and world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have decided to forgo holiday time with their families and stay in Montreal, where they train.

That doesn't mean they've lost the Christmas spirit.

Duhamel and Radford both grew up in small towns in Ontario and have many incredible memories of the holiday season.

"Our family tradition was to go out and cut down a Christmas tree together as a family, no matter how cold it was," said Radford, 28, who grew up in Balmertown. "We'd usually get it in the first few days of December. We would decorate the tree together."

The Radford family tree was decorated with a combination of store-bought and homemade ornaments. He recalls one he made in first grade from a Life Savers package. There were ornaments marking his and his older brother's first Christmases with their names and the year they were born. There were lights on the tree with one special one, a teddy bear, which stands out in his memory.

Growing up in Lively, Duhamel, 28, had a large, extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. On Christmas Eve, they'd gather at the home of her mother's parents, where Santa made an appearance every year -- generously portrayed by a friend of her grandfather.

"We'd be in the basement," Duhamel said. "He'd knock on the window and we'd all get so excited because Santa was coming. He'd come into the basement and hand out all the gifts from underneath the tree."

Since the cousins ranged in age, the older ones played along. Although Duhamel left home at 14 to train, she returned home every year.

"We still do it every Christmas Eve -- minus Santa Claus," she said. "Now, the family's even bigger because my cousins and my sister have children. We're running out of space in people's houses to host everybody."

Radford left home at 13 to train but made it home each Christmas. Then, his parents provided a twist on the traditional festivities when they moved to Bermuda in 2006.

"I had a couple of Christmases on a beach in Bermuda," he said. "All the Canadians in Bermuda would have a Canadian Christmas. We would all go to this one beach and bring champagne and celebrate Christmas morning."

When his parents moved back to Canada last year, settling in London, Ontario, the family went to Balmertown (where Radford's older brother lives) for their first Christmas all together in quite some time. This year, Radford said he'll be "home alone," although not really because he will spend the day with friends. He will also keep to some annual rituals.

"No matter what, I always get out my stocking," said Radford, who has a small tree in his apartment. "Ever since I was little, and even now on Christmas morning, I'll have tea with condensed milk in it. It's so good."

Duhamel and Radford always exchange gifts with each other and their coaching team. Both finished their Christmas shopping while in Japan for the Grand Prix Final at UNIQLO. Duhamel also made a trip to Vermont (about two hours drive from Montreal) to pick up a gift for her sister because the store didn't have international shipping.

Having recently marked five years as a vegan, Duhamel has found creative ways to make some of her favorite holiday foods. She loves eggnog, and last year she made her own with avocados, spices and coconut milk. An avid baker, she has already made shortbread and gingerbread cookies. For Christmas, she promises to whip up an amazing sweet potato casserole.

She, too, has a little tree up in her apartment, and the weekend after Christmas her family will come for a visit. Radford will Skype with his family on Christmas. He anticipates that even though he's flying solo this year, he'll be up early on Christmas morning with a sense of excitement. His dream gift is a PlayStation 4.

They both send holiday wishes to skaters, friends, family and skating fans.

"For everybody to have a relaxing, enjoyable and safe Christmas holiday," Radford said.