A week and a half after a baffling injury cost Eric Radford a legitimate shot at a third consecutive world title, an MRI revealed the culprit: a herniated disc.
Radford and pairs partner Meagan Duhamel wound up seventh at the world figure skating championships earlier this month in Helsinki, after Radford experienced perplexing numbness and loss of control in his right hip.
He was diagnosed with a herniated disc at his L2 vertebra in his lower back — compressing the nerve to his hip — news he took with mixed feelings.
Although more serious than expected, knowing what was wrong was "a huge relief," Radford said.
"The two weeks or so following worlds were extremely difficult, especially emotionally and mentally. I'm the type of person, I don't like wondering, and not knowing," Radford said. "As soon as I had the MRI and they knew what was wrong, I came up with a plan, it was: OK, I have a target, I can start getting better now.
"There was a lot of uncertainty, I felt extremely lost."
The six-time Canadian champions immediately scrapped their plans to compete at last week's World Team Trophy in Tokyo, where Canada finished fourth. Radford, a native of Balmertown, Ont., took a full three-and-a-half weeks off.
In the meantime, Duhamel practised on her own.
The two are back skating as part of the Stars on Ice tour which opens Friday in Halifax. The tour stops in 12 Canadian cities, wrapping up May 18 in Vancouver.
"I was unsure whether I'd be able to do the tour, but I'm really happy I decided to give it a try, because even within the first two days being here, working with the physio, just slowly getting back into it, I've noticed a big improvement," Radford said. "I'm so lucky because on tour I have a physio that I can see three times a day. And I'm lucky that I can still do the tour but heal along the way."
The two will then take a couple of weeks off before preparation begins in earnest for the 2018 Olympic season. The two-time world champs are expected to retire after the Pyeongchang Games.
"(My back) only needs to last me eight more months," Radford said, with a half-hearted laugh.
The two both called the days immediately after Helsinki "intense." There were a lot of long, vocal meetings.
"We were a little bit frantic, 'What do we do? What do we need to do so the judges view us as a top team again?'" Duhamel said. "Our minds were racing."
"It's difficult," Radford added. "Like any sort of relationship when you go through something difficult, it's straining."
They've decided to return to a more familiar musical style for their Olympic campaign, after skating to Seal's "Killer" this past season.
"We wanted to be different, we tried it, it didn't work. Lesson learned," said Duhamel, a native of Lively, Ont. "Next year we're going to do what we can do well and what we're comfortable with, because when you go outside of your comfort zone with the choreography and the music it also makes the technical elements more uncomfortable as well."
Duhamel said if there's a silver lining from Radford's injury, it's a renewed focus on their off-ice training.
"We'll maybe double up on our off-ice type of training, because we aren't young to be doing what we're doing (Radford is 32, Duhamel is 31), and it is important to keep our bodies in the best shape as possible for the next 10 months," she said.
"Our goal is start the season strong and end the season strong and be in the best shape of our lives. Because this is it. It's all done after this."