'Always' didn't come; Rink named for skater being demolished.

AuthorOwen, Paula J.

Byline: Paula J. Owen

FITCHBURG -- When Darlene J. Westlund heard the skating rink named in her mother's honor was being demolished from the inside a few weeks ago, she was more than a little angry.

To understand why she was so upset, you have to understand a little bit about the life of her mother, Carmelita Landry, one of the world's fastest speedskaters and a national champion. She was one of the most decorated athletes in Fitchburg's history and, one could argue, in the state.

So, let's start at the beginning of her journey, as recounted by her daughter. Ms. Westlund has a scrapbook on her mother that includes more than 100 news articles about her success as a speedskater and about the quest by one of the city's wealthiest men to build her a skating arena.

Ms. Westlund said that when her mother, who was born in 1918, was about 6, her family moved to Fitchburg from Saint-Andre, New Brunswick, in Canada. She spoke only French and basically had to teach herself how to speak English.

Then, when she was around 7, an accident would change her life, but leave her more determined.

She was playing with her sister and a boy from the neighborhood in the backyard at home around some old cars, and they got the idea they were going to take one for a ride into town. The boy ran home to get a match so they could see into the tank to check for gas. His mother was on the phone and didn't notice what he was doing. He ran back to the Landrys' home and lit the match so Carmelita could see into the tank. But the match's flame reached the boy's finger and he dropped it into the tank. There were just enough fumes to ignite, and the tank blew up.

The explosion blew out Carmelita's eardrums and damaged her left eye.

"My mother always had a gray eye and couldn't see out of it, but it didn't stop her,'' Ms. Westlund said. "Back then, they would flood the parking lot at St. Joseph's in Fitchburg for a rink and she would borrow her cousin's skates. When she was 11, she asked her father for a pair of her own skates. He told her, 'You have one eye that is ruined and now you want to take the chance of ruining the other one?' She cried for two weeks.''

Carmelita's father was fortunate enough during the Great Depression to have a job working for the railroad, Ms. Westlund said, and although he was concerned about Carmelita's safety, the next time he took the train into Boston, he bought her a pair of skates for $5.

"She started to compete,'' Ms. Westlund said. "She was a...

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