“If you have a goal or a desire, don’t give up; pursue it. This is your life!” article about ice dancer Solene Mazingue who was in coma after a fall on the ice but still dreams about the Olympics
Translation of the article about Estonian ice dancers Solene Mazingue and Marko Jevgeni Gaidajenko.
source: forbes.ru dd. 11th August by Daria Syleimanova
At the beginning of the summer, figure skater Solene Mazingue revealed that she had suffered a concussion after falling on the ice during training. Such incidents are common in figure skating, but fans of the French athlete were concerned. In the fall of the previous year, Mazingue underwent cranial trepanation, and after recovering, she arrived at the World Championships in Saitama just six months later. Forbes Sport tells the story of this brave figure skater.
In April, an official short film about the Estonian pair Solene Mazingue and Marko Jevgeni Gaidajenko appeared on the International Skating Union’s (ISU) official YouTube channel. The country’s 2022 champions had not risen to stardom on the international stage; they only once became bronze medalists at a Junior Grand Prix event in France. The appearance of their story on the main figure skating website might have seemed strange to an uninitiated viewer. However, this is only a first glance.
The six-minute video was dedicated not so much to lifts and twizzles but to a story of overcoming challenges: Mazingue did not allow her accident to affect her life, and her partner stood by her throughout this challenging journey.
Solene Mazingue was born in Paris and began her journey in figure skating at the age of three. As often happens, it was her mother who introduced her to the ice, and at the age of six, Solene took part in competitions in her hometown. “I love skating very much, and I especially love competing. I enjoy feeling the music and evoking emotions from the audience that watches me,” the athlete confessed.
In her junior years, Solene Mazingue had the opportunity to skate with fellow countrymen: first with Jean-Hans Fourneaux and then with Maxime Dos Reis. With the latter partner, Solene participated in six international competitions and secured a sixth-place finish in the Junior French Championships. In 2020, the partnership ended, leaving Mazingue in a challenging position.
Finding ice dance partners is no easy task. Despite the popularity of figure skating worldwide, there is always a shortage of male skaters in this discipline. During the pandemic, the search for new partnerships became even more complicated due to quarantine measures and closed borders, making it impossible to assess the potential of a duo. Initially, Mazingue watched videos of figure skaters from the US and Russia, and then she found out that there was a skater in Estonia who, like her, was without a partner.
Marko Jevgeni Gaidajenko had parted ways with his former partner Daria Netyaga at the end of 2020, and by January 2021, he and Mazingue announced that they would be skating together. Both decided that representing the Estonian flag on the international stage was more advantageous than the French flag, where ice dance competition is significantly tougher. They chose Russian coaches, Alexander Zhulin and Petr Durnev, and settled in Moscow, albeit temporarily.
In 2022, Mazingue and Gaidajenko became Estonian champions and secured a spot at the European Championships, where they placed 20th. At the same year’s World Championships, they finished 19th. They decided to begin their preparations for the 2022/23 season at the popular Montreal Ice Academy under the guidance of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
“Getting into Russia was difficult because nobody was given a visa, so the whole last season we were trying to find where to skate. Then the situation with Ukraine started (the wording might have been changed due to the current Russian legislation since the article was posted in Russian media – FS Gossips), so there was no chance of staying there at all. We had good relations with coaches from Montreal before, and we already had ideas to move there,” explained Gaidajenko.
Things were going well for the pair in Montreal: programs were set, and Dubreuil and Lauzon’s methods were effective. Mazingue and Gaidajenko were set to make their debut as students of the renowned ice dance school at the Finlandia Trophy in October. However, a couple of weeks before the tournament, an unfortunate incident occurred during their practice.
The pair was rehearsing their free program before the start of the season when suddenly Marko Gaidajenko’s skate blade got stuck in an ice hole. “He fell backward at the moment he was lifting me. My head was down, and my legs were up. I fell on my head and lost consciousness for 10 seconds,” recalls Mazingue.
Falls in figure skating happen all the time, and skaters are taught to position themselves correctly to minimize damage. “In this case, she hit her head very hard. We went to the hospital because the bump on her head was big and hurting a lot,” Gaidajenko explained.
A cranial computed tomography scan revealed a fracture and significant internal bleeding. Soon after, the condition of the 19-year-old Mazingue deteriorated sharply. She was rushed into surgery – her body temperature dropped to 32 degrees Celsius, and shortly after, she fell into a coma.
“They began the surgery on Solene. A nurse came up to me and said that she was in critical condition, and there was no certainty that she would survive,” Gaidajenko recalls. “The nurse said they didn’t know if she would survive or if she would be able to speak or walk again. Just three hours before that, we were talking, practicing our program, and now I’m being told that I might be seeing her for the last time.”
Emergency cranial trepanation was performed on Mazingue, and titanium plates with six anchors were inserted. The day after the operation, she called Gaidajenko, and two days later, she decided she wanted to get back on the ice again.
“Doctors thought that when I woke up, I wouldn’t be able to speak or feel my legs. They thought it would take me a week before I could speak, and maybe a month before I could walk. I had to learn to do it all over again. I can officially say that I’m a robot because I have four metal plates in my head,” Mazingue recounted.
Doctors admitted that the case of the figure skater was a one-in-a-million occurrence. According to their assessments, it would take many years for her brain to fully recover. The surgery affected Solene’s ability to read, write, and react, but it didn’t dampen her desire to continue figure skating.
Three months after the operation, Mazingue stepped onto the ice for the first time – her initial training sessions lasted only 15 minutes as she gradually eased into it. Together with Gaidajenko, they moved on to more complex elements, which Solene performed while wearing a helmet. Six months after the cranial trepanation, Mazingue and Gaidajenko traveled to the World Championships in Saitama. They were allowed to participate in the Japanese competition under the condition that they would only perform the rhythm dance.
“If you have a goal or a desire, don’t give up; pursue it. This is your life! You only have one, and anything bad can happen at any moment. So, don’t give up,” Mazingue said after the rhythm dance, after which the pair ranked 28th.
Solene continued her struggle even after the World Championships in Saitama, fighting for the payment of medical bills and the right to continue her career.
Due to the unfortunate accident during training in the fall of last year, Mazingue and Gaidajenko missed a significant portion of the season, which consequently deprived the Estonian Figure Skating Federation of the desired quotas and podium finishes. The federation decided to reduce funding for the reigning national champions from the previous year, forcing Solene and Marco to turn to their fans through the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. Mazingue’s medical bills remained unpaid, and the dream of participating in the 2026 Olympics was under threat.
“Facing death gives you a different perspective on things that truly matter. Returning to the ice and representing Estonia in the next Olympics is important both for me and for us. It’s this determination and resolve to help others that pushed us to participate in this year’s World Championships in Japan, just 5 months after my life-threatening fall.
But our Olympic journey can end here without your help.
With substantial medical bills from surgery and the federation’s decision to cut our funding due to not achieving high enough placements this season, we won’t be able to afford to continue skating.
We’ve launched this GoFundMe account to find a way to keep covering training costs, ice time, paying our phenomenal coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and the entire team at the Ice Academy of Montreal,” Mazingue writes on the platform.
The appeal to fans was posted on April 13, and by the end of July, the figure skaters had raised €4000. In early summer, it was revealed that Mazingue had suffered a concussion again after an unsuccessful fall during training. She disappeared from social media, where she had been sharing her recovery journey, and a couple of days later, she posted a somber message.
“I have suffered another concussion. I’m not practicing on the ice, and I need to start everything from scratch.”
The European figure skating season kicks off in early September.
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