Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Donlan, Bartholomay call it quits

Both skaters say they will seek new partners; O'Shea's dog 'alive and well'
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Gretchen Donlan struggled for months with an inner ear condition that hampered her and Nathan Bartholomay's ability to train together. -Jay Adeff

Pairs team Gretchen Donlan and Nathan Bartholomay have announced the end of their partnership. After finishing fifth at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and sixth at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy last fall, the duo had to withdraw from Skate America when Donlan fell ill.

"I had the worst flu I've ever had," Donlan said by telephone Wedesday. "A month later, the symptoms all pointed to a virus that got into my right inner ear."

The virus ended up causing an inner ear inflammation called labyrinthitis. One of the symptoms of that condition is vertigo, the effects of which can be devastating to a figure skater. Balance testing revealed that Donlan's right ear was working at 60 percent of the capacity of her left.

"It's so weird and embarrassing," Donlan said ruefully. "For weeks, I had a falling sensation in bed, all night -- it was horrible. I also heard a really loud noise in my right ear; I thought I was going crazy. I tried to skate, but I was so dizzy and lightheaded. Even standing, I felt like I was falling over."

Donlan kept trying to skate but was unsuccessful each time, and she ended up spending about three months off the ice. Ultimately, the team withdrew from the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"Nate was really helpful," Donlan said. "I kept trying to go back, but it was like I was skating super-drunk all the time. It was horrible and uncomfortable. I don't know why it happened to me. For a long time, I thought I was going to be messed up forever."

The team even struggled to practice on dry land.

"I would go to the rink every day, but we could do, like, nothing," Donlan said. "Even doing off-ice lifts, I would get dizzy. If I tried to do too much, I would get horrible migraines."

Donlan says that although she isn't quite back to normal yet, she is feeling better, to the point where she can skate, jump and spin. She admits to feeling guilty over the team having to withdraw from the U.S. championships but is quick to point out that the split with Bartholomay was amicable.

"I wish the best for him," she said.

After a lot of soul searching, Donlan decided that she's not ready to quit.

"I can't leave the sport; I love it so much, so I want to keep going," she said. "I need to work on my confidence in myself. But I can't leave the sport that way -- I want to give it my all."

Donlan plans to stay in Florida, where she and Bartholomay trained, and search for a partner with the help of coach Jim Peterson. Peterson's team coached the winning novice, junior and senior teams in Saint Paul.

"It's a no-brainer," Donlan said. "Mr. Peterson has brought out absolutely the best in me. I would never have thought I could do Chicago (her short program with Bartholomay). I have full confidence that he will be able to take me to my fullest potential."

Another partner search

Bartholomay said he, too, will stick with Peterson's team and search for a new partner. He trained every day while Donlan was off the ice.

"I've been keeping my jumps up, keeping my training strong," Bartholomay said Thursday morning. "We have a strong belief in our school that even if your partner isn't there, you train hard. So I went to the rink by myself and ran our programs by myself every day. I've got my triple flip and lutz back."

Bartholomay took a little time off to visit his family in Saint Paul. While there, he pondered his future and decided to stay in Florida and keep skating.

"A lot of my success comes from my coaches and the regimen here," Bartholomay said. "The team-coaching training style is really working out, as you can see from the results at nationals. We're obviously doing something right here."

Bartholomay hopes to produce some technical fireworks in the future.

"Mr. Peterson said, 'Keep your feet under you. Look and see who's out there doing throw lutzes and quads,'" he said. "I've also been really focused on the artistic side of things, to improve my edge quality, my posture."

Prize puppy

You may remember the story about Daniel O'Shea's father promising to buy his son a puppy if he won the novice men's title at the 2008 U.S. Championships. Daniel, of course, delivered the goods, and he still has the dog, a Golden Retriever named Zoey.

"Zoey is alive and well. She lives with my parents in Chicago," O'Shea said. "I don't get to see her all that often. She is a wonderful dog."

We had to ask: Did Daniel's dad offer any incentives if his son and partner Tarah Kayne brought home the pairs gold medal from Saint Paul?

"I think he learned his lesson this time," O'Shea said, laughing. "It was a little more out of the realm of possibility in our minds going into novice. Not too many people thought we would win this year, but I did mention it to my dad."

Although Kayne is allergic to animals -- "pet dander in general," O'Shea said -- she says she wants a puppy, too.

'We're looking into it," O'Shea said.

O'Shea's parents were both born and raised in the Boston area, and he's excited to skate at the world championships.

"I have about 50 family members and friends who will be at worlds," he said. "My mom is one of eight kids, and my dad is one of three. One of my best friends growing up is going to school in Boston, so she and some of her friends are coming. It's exciting and fun!"

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