Vancouver Paralympics part II – Fun, Poles & Heroes

In order to race well you have to have some time where you just relax, have some fun and take your mind away from the skiing or the snow.  Team Canada had an opportunity to do just that by hanging out with Rick Mercer, as he was filming for his March 23 episode.  In the morning he had gone out skiing with Brian and Robin McKeever.   He tried to guide Brian but that didn’t work so well.  So they took another approach and had Brian (who is the blind one) guide Rick along some trails in the Callaghan Valley.  He then joined the Para-Nordic team back at the Athlete’s Village for lunch in the food tent, sharing stories and laughs.  To wrap up his day he spent some time interviewing members of the team in the Athlete’s Lounge as we watched some fellow Canadians compete in the Para-Alpine events that afternoon.  This was a great stress reliever and a chance to allow our clothes to dry out a little.  In good BC fashion, the morning’s training had been highlighted by the fact that I would have stayed drier had I simply jumped into a swimming pool.  No joke!  It was raining so hard that anything you did didn’t help you stay dry.  I had a very good rain resistant suit on, along with a plastic poncho over top but still I got soaked.  It took me almost a full day to dry my gloves and still in the morning threw them into the dryer for an extra 20 minutes.  Our coaches were holding umbrellas in the range but I don’t think it helped with anything.

My third race was the 10km cross country race.  In Vancouver this race was classic.  The conditions were challenging.  Freezing temperatures along with the heavy down pour from the previous two days meant the race course had been transformed into a Crashed Ice event (the slightly crazy Quebec event were they cover a hill with ice and obstacles and a bunch of guys in hockey gear tumble down, with the fastest winning).  Even with the 10am start the snow or I should say ice held firm and made keeping and edge for turning very difficult.  It was fun though.  The race came down to who had the fastest first lap, without burning up on the climbs and had the most grip wax left for the second lap.  I may have been a little cautious on my first lap, trying to conserve my grip wax for the second lap.  I was about to finish the first lap when the unthinkable happened.  I broke my pole again.  In eight years of racing I had never broken a pole now I had had broken two in two races.  A Korean coach handed me a spare (shorter then I usually use) within a few metres of me breaking my pole.  I used this one for the remaining 500 metres before going through the stadium and picking up my proper spare from a wax tech.  I was now forced to turn up the heat and really fight to make up for both the slow first lap and breaking the pole.  One of the heavy favorites caught me with 4km left.  I stayed with him; he never got further then 10 metres ahead of me.  To my extreme surprise I was catching and passing him on the flats, which he is one of the strongest at.  He had a bad pair of boards and mine were only getting better.  We came into the last climb, I caught up again and I’m not sure how or why, kept going right by him, and left him for dead.  He still finished higher than I did but I had the satisfaction of beating him to the line.  Next step, I’ll beat him to the finish line and in the final results.  I was very happy with that race.  I skied very well and executed my race plan quite well. For me there is nothing I regret about that race.

That evening the team went to the Whistler Awards Plaza to cheer for our two medal winners from the day: Brian and Robin McKeever (gold) and Colette Bourgonje (bronze).  I was always surprised at the size of the crowds at every one of the award ceremonies.   The crowd cheered on athletes from every country but they saved a little extra every time there was a Canadian on the podium.  To look up and see two teammates up on the podium, it inspired me.  I wanted to be up there and I will.  But this young grasshopper must have patience.  I came to these Games to gain experience.  I wanted to learn how I reacted to the whole Games experience, to know what to expect.  To deliver the performance on demand that is required at a Games.  If a result would have been there that would be incredible, but not what I came to do.  I saw the work that both of those medal winners had put in over the past four years.  Though at the same time it was not only the past four years that brought them to that podium.  In Colette’s case, this was her sixth (yes 6th) Winter Paralympics (plus three Summer Games), her journey has been ongoing for some time.  The stories and experiences that she has had over the years, I can only dream of right now.  One day I’ll look back and I can only hope that I can pass on the inspiration she gave to me onto someone else.  Thanks Colette!

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