Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's OVER!!! But Only Officially......

Well, we were pretty darn lucky with the weather during the Games, but leading up to the closing ceremonies, things did not look good! The ceremonies were to be held at the Whistler medal plaza so they were going to be outside and the clouds that were moving in as we started to marshal were gray and ominous to say the least! But despite the grayness, spirits were high and everyone was in good spirits. Probably because the Canadian team was on a sugar high - no, really! Just before heading out to board the buses, we had a quick Team Canada meeting to celebrate our Games experience and so the Canadian Paralympic Committee served all of us a piece of maple sugar pie. It was good, but oh so sweet! Pretty much tasted like crystallized maple syrup in a pie crust! Can you say sugar rush?! As we left the meeting, we were offered umbrellas. Hmmm, bad omen or preventative action? Surely if we all were carrying umbrellas, it couldn’t possibly rain on the closing ceremonies, which were, of course, to be held outside.....
Attending a major games like the Paralympics always has its hurry-up-and-wait times and waiting for the ceremonies to start was one of them. We all stood milling around in the upper part of Whistler Village with looker-ons cheering and shouting, countries shouting cheers and everyone basically just having a great time - even when it started to rain. Finally we got the word to move out and I was surprised to see the whole distance of our walk down to the medal plaza was lined with spectators cheering and waving flags. It was amazing! And in all of those faces, Andrea was able to see my family so she pointed them out to me so I even got to go by and say a quick hello to them. No wonder she’s such a good guide - talk about eagle eyes!

Closing ceremonies were a great show with a strong emphasis on Canada’s northern cultures. Included in the ceremonies was a demonstration of blanket tossing, including throwing Kelly Smith high into the air. For those of you who don’t know Kelly, he was one of Canada’s top wheelchair marathon athletes up until his retirement a few years ago. Hopefully the video I plan on posting of him getting tossed about will work. They also had a woman throat singing, which I learned later actually started among the Inuit as a game where two people faced each other and tried to make the other laugh by making funny faces and sounds. Who knew?
At every closing ceremony, the country to host the next Games gets to do a short presentation and the one done by the Sochi 2014 group was amazing! The best part was when some was doing what looked like charcoal drawings in real time and the images appeared on a giant screen onstage. If they can pull off a Games as good as their presentation, it should be pretty incredible. Hopefully all the talk about facilities not getting done, corruption, etc. is all just hearsay. Good luck Russia! As they say to their racing skiers, davai, davai, davai! 
So at the end of the ceremonies, poor Mary was in tears again, sad to see everything finally coming to a close. She went looking for her family, but couldn’t find them so she asked for some assistance. Who did she ask? Nobody really - just our prime minister, Stephen Harper! 
Though Mary was sad to see the Games officially over, I knew things weren’t really over just yet - Canada was going to host the unofficial after party. It is a tradition that started at the 2002 Torino Winter Paralympic Games and since then, Canada has put on a rockin’ party after every closing ceremony back in the Athletes’ Village. The first one that I got to go to was in Athens and it was fabulous! People from all nations just came to mingle and celebrating being at the Games. The only difference with the after party for the 2010 Vancouver Games was that hanging around outside is lovely late into the night in Athens, but not so much in Whistler so I was curious to see how CPC was going to pull it off. Solution? Take over the athletes’ lounge - it was packed! I mean really packed. Literally wall-to-wall people. It was actually faster to go outside and walk around the building to get to the other side of the room! And of course there was a lot of uniform trading going on. I really only wanted a Swedish toque (they were so cool!), but they looked so good that no one wanted to give theirs up. Oh well! Some guy from Lithuania did try to trade me his watch for a Canada t-shirt. My best trade was a really nice Slovakia baseball cap for an electric toothbrush with the Village dentist so really, if you are looking for good trades, don’t ask me for advice!
So I guess that is it - my experience at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. II have been to four summer Paralympic Games and they all were great, but competing here at home makes the experience that much more sweeter. I can’t even put it into words. Usually when you compete you feel support from your teammates, but when you compete at home, you know everyone is pulling for you. More than once, I had media people, officials, volunteers and strangers in the crowd wishing Andrea and I good luck. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Catching Up....

Okay, I know I said I was going to keep posting, but really, things just got so busy that I really didn't have time to keep up! So what I will do is post over the next few days to let you know what really went on, but I will change the dates of the posting so they go on the dates things actually happened on. So get ready to go back in time.....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sprint Semi-Finals......No, REALLY!

So as I said in my previous post on the sprints, Andrea I figured we were done in that we finished 9th in the prologue and only the top eight advanced. So we went for a nice cool-down and when we got back, I gave Andrea my skis while I headed back to our little clothing wax hut to get our jackets. Just as I was coming out, Jamie came up to congratulate me on the race. I thanked him and said that Andrea and I were both really happy with our ninth place finish. Jamie looked at me funny and said, "No, no, you were eighth. You advanced to the semis!" I told him, no, we were ninth, but Jamie was adamant. "I just saw Robbi in the lodge and she said that she and you advanced to the next round." Now I knew that we were ninth, so what the heck was Jamie talking about? So I ran up to the wax hut where Andrea was putting away our skis and yelled "Andrea! Jamie says we're eighth! Quick, check the results!" Andrea dropped the skis and ran to the results board. "We ARE eighth!" she exclaimed! We were thrilled!!!

So that started a mad rush to get ready for round two! We only had about 15 minutes to get our bib, re-organize our headsets, get our warm ups off, and find our wax techs to get our skis touched up...remember, we'd just come back from a 30 minute cool-down ski! I raced back to the clothing hut to strip down and when I burst into the room, Mary, Margarita and Robert were there. I couldn't help it, I just shouted "We're going through! We're going into the semis!" Everyone cheered, especially Mary, who leapt up from her seat with her arms up in celebration. And then she immediately passed out! Luckily, it was only a short stint of unconsciousness and she was awake in seconds. Sorry about that Mary!

I got our headsets and ran back to our wax hut, but Andrea couldn't find Michael or David. Remember, they thought none of us had gone through so they'd gone to look for lunch! Luckily, Ian, the senior team wax tech, knew what was needed and did our skis for us. While he did that, Andrea and I got our bibs sorted out as for the semis, your bib number represents the position you qualified in so we were lucky number eight and no one was happier than me to be wearing it! As soon as we got our skis, we ran back to the start area and waited for our semi! I was so thrilled! We were top eight in the WORLD!!! Our best finish ever, regardless of what happened in the semi! It was my happiest moment of the Games, by far!

Our semi-final race went well, just not quite as smoothly as in the prologue. As Andrea put it, there was nothing wrong with our execution, just that our bodies were telling us, "Hey, we just DID this! What gives?" We finished in fourth, but again, had a strong race. Margarita was really happy for us and reassured us that "It was a respectable fourth! You definitely looked like you deserved to be there!"
I was so happy! Hmm, looks like "happy" is the word of the day! I just can't put into words the feeling of giving it your all and having your best result ever - it is such a rush!

So Andrea I raced four times during these Games and had four of our strongest races all season. I didn't fall once during a race, but I definitely made up for it in the practice runs, but who cares what happens in practice? As long as I learned from my mistakes then and didn't make the same mistakes during the races, that is what practice is for. I think I proved that when it comes down to crunch time, I am a competitor!

So after all the racing was done, Andrea and I got asked to do an interview with the Accessibility Channel and who should be the reporter but my friend, Shawn Marsolais! She just started working as a reporter, but she did a fantastic job and asked some really good questions. Shawn is an athlete as well - she represented Canada in tandem cycling at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and is a current member of Canada's national women's goalball team so she completely understands what it takes for an athlete and guide to work together, which is something most reporters don't get at all. A couple of times this season, I have been interviewed and I always have asked if the reporter wants to interview Andrea as well. Often they say yes, but sometimes they misunderstand that she is my guide and so more than just a teammate. But like I said, Shawn gets it! Personally, I think reporting is like guiding - it looks easy, but really isn't, but it only looks easy because the people doing it are so capable! Thanks for such a great interview Shawn!

So after all the racing was done and I was all packed up, I went to go find my family. None of them have ever been to a cross-country ski race of this magnitude, let alone seen me compete and they all enjoyed it immensely! My aunt even said that it was more fun that she expected! That's pretty good considering my family has traditionally been made up of hockey nuts! Thanks so much for all of you who did come - it was awesome to know you were in the crowd cheering for us! The only exception was Jaden, who, at the age of six, was more interested in playing in the snow than watching the races. Can you blame him? At six, a huge pile of snow with other kids running and playing all over it is pretty tempting! I did get this photo of him and Xavier as they wrestled.

Oh, and don't let the sunshine in these photos fool you - it rained off and on all day! The photos were taken yesterday in the sunshine - I just knew I'd be a little too busy during race day to be a shutterbug!

Face of the Day - Andrea Bundon

There is no doubt in my mind that I can ski alone. However, it isn't nearly as enjoyable and I certainly am not able to ski as fast as when I do have a guide. So really, for me, a guide makes it possible for me to race at my top speed. Without a guide, I never would have qualified for these Games and though I don't want to take away from Murray or Lisa because without them, I never would have gotten good enough to even be eligible for the Games, but Andrea has made a huge impact on my short skiing career.

People often assume that guiding is easy - really, how hard can it be to just ski in front of someone and yell out directions, right? In reality, it's a very challenging task that not just anyone can do (trust me, I've skied with people who just don't have the knack for guiding!). Andrea not only has to be able to ski faster than me (otherwise she'd be out of breath and wouldn't be able to give any directions), but she has to quickly analyze the course, what I'm doing, what she's doing and what the competition is doing and make split decisions about what we need to do to race the best we can. All while things are moving at race pace. Phew!

Though Andrea and I decide in advance how we want to segment a race, sometimes things happen and she has to make changes to the race plan and relay them to me. For example, more than once Andrea has decided that we need to do a quick hard push to beat another skier to the top of a hill so that we can take the best line, forcing them to take the less optimal line. Or she's had to slightly modify what we'er doing based on traffic. For example, in the 5km classic race, the second to last downhill ended with a really tight S turn that was in the shade so it was super icy. On our own, that corner was tricky, but in that particular race, we came down the hill the same time as three other athletes and their guides so really, eight of us came screaming through that section. So Andrea had to figure out on the fly how to guide me through on the best line possible without getting either of us in trouble with the other skiers.

If one of us falls, we have to keep it together. If I wipe out, she has to stop and wait for me to get back up, which kills both of our momentum, not just mine. And if she falls, she has to get out of my way so that I don't get slowed up. That actually happened in the 5km classic (first time ever!) on an uphill, but Andrea kept her wits about her and barrel rolled out of my way, let me pass, got back up and ran like mad up the hill to get back in front of me. At another point in the race, I got ahead of her and the tracks were so much faster than the snow out of them and I was having such a great race that she couldn't get back in front. So she guided from behind, meaning she had to not only give me direction as to where I needed to go, she had to be remembering what was next so she could guide me through that too. Not so simple after all yet Andrea handles all of the pressure and chaos like it is a walk in the park. No matter how crazy things get, she stays calm and focused on the race and does a fantastic job of guiding me. I can't express how much I appreciate her as a guide. And I'm also proud that she is one of just three female guides at these Games because at this level, you have to be an exceptionally fit skier in order to guide and obviously not too many women can ski fast enough to do what she does.

Even more important, I appreciate all of the sacrifices Andrea has made so I can ski. She is currently a PhD student in sport sociology at UBC, but beyond her own coursework, she is also a teaching assistant for some of her supervisor's classes. If you have been following my blog, you'll know that really, we haven't been home all that much this winter, but Andrea has adjusted her teaching commitments so we could get away to ski as much as we did. That means that she has been doing some work over the internet, such as monitoring discussions groups, but when we get home, she'll have to mark all the final exams to make up for the classroom time she's missed. And yet she is doing all of this to help me.

Andrea has really been there for me for the past year. In and around both of our busy schedules, we've gone for runs together, rollerskied together, rowed together, and obviously skied together. Without Andrea, I couldn't have gotten up to the ski areas and I'm scared to even ask how many kilometres we've added together to her little SUV. Between trips to Vernon, Kelowna, Canmore, Mount Washington, Europe and all points in , we've put in a lot of time together and I have many fond memories from these trips.

Throughout this whole process, Andrea and I have learned a lot, laughed a lot and, luckily, only cried a little bit. Andrea has enriched the experience so much for me not only because she is a very capable skier, but because we have become good friends. Some athletes have guides and the two of them never become more than just that, but I'm glad to count Andrea among my friends.

So thank you Andrea for making this whole experience possible for me and for being more than just my guide. Thank you for accepting me for who I am and for helping me whenever I needed it. Thank you for challenging my mind with your academic discussions. Thank you for spending so much time away from home, friends and family so that we could get better together on skis. Thank you for your quick wit and smiling personality. It has been an incredible journey and I am so happy I got to share it with you. I hope we'll still ski together next season!

Sprint Qualification...

Okay, this photo is deceiving because the day of the sprints, it was anything but sunny! It was actually raining, but this photo, taken by Joan, is so fabulous, I had to post it!

So the snow gods took pity on my and it did snow a little bit last night and with the rain this morning, the course has softened up a bit, which my left hip is really happy about because it have the most colourful bruise going on right now because of yesterday's many wipeouts on that one corner.

Anyway, Andrea and I, to try and stay warm, actually wore the geeky plastic ponchos we were giving Robert such a bad time about when we went looking for Rick Mercer, but it worked for the most part in keeping us dry. We went out and skied the course a few times and things were looking good! Even better, I had friends and family in the crowd including three uncles, one aunt, my parents plus Jaden, my friend Sara (we've been buddies since grade 5) and others, which was awesome! Never before have I had such a big contingent cheering me on and that doesn't even include all the people that came to see Andrea!

The way the sprints were organized today is that everyone was to ski in the prologue, which means skiers go out in 30 second intervals, with the fastest eight skiers based on time advance to the semi-finals. The top two finishers from each semi-final then advances to the final. In the heats, the times are calculated as per usual with percentages being applied based on the level of vision. In the semi-finals and final though, they do what is called a hunting start where the athletes with the least vision (B1 category) get a pre-determined head start on the B2 athletes who get a head start on the B3 athletes. This way, athletes know exactly where they are in the race in relation to their competition. Okay, the GUIDES have an idea where they are at and pass along the info to the athletes, but that's just semantics.....

Our race in the prologue was awesome - couldn't have done anything different to make it better given my current skills as a skier. We were only 10 seconds slower than Verena Bentele from Germany, who has won all the races so far. To only be down 10 seconds to her over 1.2km is fantastic considering in the 5km, with her time percentage adjustment she was a minute faster per kilometre. When we crossed the finish line, I was 6th, but by the time all the athletes crossed the line, we ended up 9th - just one spot out of qualifying. We were 10 seconds out of 8th place and Andrea and I both agreed that there was no way we could have made up 10 seconds on that course so we actually weren't all that disappointed with our 9th place finish. That was where we finished at the classic sprint in Oberried for the World Cup races, but this was a bigger field than in Oberried!

Anyway, we got thumbs up from our wax tech Michael who complimented us on our ski and confirmed with us that we were indeed 9th overall. None of our team advanced so our wax techs got the okay to go and get some lunch while myself, Andrea, Margarita (who finished right behind me in tenth, accomplishing her goal of making the top ten - way to go Margarita!!!), and Robert went for a cool-down ski out past the ski jump area. We headed out on a trail past the ski jump chairlift until it started to do some serious climbing and Robert suggested we head back. I was a little bit disappointed in that this was going to be my last ski with these guys and wasn't too excited about cutting it short, but we still had a long day ahead of us. We still had to clean all our skis to remove all of the klister, travel wax them all and then pack them up (remember, between Andrea and I, we had 13 pairs to look after!), help tidy up the wax room, get home and shower, attend a Team Canada special event, go to closing ceremonies...... Anyway, to make a long story short, we didn't really have enough time to be out touring so we headed back to the wax hut. We were all so happy with how our races had gone, which was a fabulous way to finish off the games. Or was it??

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Face of the Day - Tony Chin

I don't even know how it happened, but I ended up joining the Nordic Racers ski club here in Vancouver and made contact with Tony. Like Murray, Tony had essentially no experience with para-nordic skiing, but he too got right into it. Over the past few years, he's given me a lot of coaching and if you want to know what is new in cross-country gear, talk to Tony. Ever heard of skikes? Tony has. Know anything about catskis? Tony does! he is the technology guru of nordic skiing, if there ever was one! If it's new or has been improved, Tony knows about it!

Tony was fantastic as a coach and is the reason I am now skiing with Andrea. He started a para-nordic training group through the club and started recruiting other skiers to join the program as support staff and guides. Andrea, who was relatively new to Vancouver at the time, thought it might be a good way to find others to ski with so she joined the group. The following October, with Lisa being seven months pregnant, I was looking for a guide so Tony held an impromptu race between me and two potential guides. First one to the finish line got to guide me, unless I got there first! Luckily, Andrea got there first and me second, so the other potential guide was out of the running and Andrea was in!

If it hadn't been for Tony, my technical knowledge would not be what it is today. If it wasn't for Tony, I wouldn't have been able to ski as much as I have over the past few years because he gave me a ride up to Cypress more than just one time. Okay, more like a few dozen times! If it wasn't for Tony, I never would have learned how to really wax skis (thanks for the handy dandy wax chart Tony!) If it wasn't for Tony, I never would have met Andrea. So truly, me being at the Paralympic Games is in part thanks to Tony. So thank you Tony for everything! I've learned a lot from you! Happy coaching!

Sprints Tomorrow! Let's Get Things Going!

So tomorrow are the sprints and I think they will be my best chance to move up in the rankings. Andrea and I really know this course, but today, it was tricky. Again, things were icy. Again, I had a lot of falls on the far corner, which is a downhill followed by a sharp U-turn. Making things more interesting were that the corner was sloped away from the turn as opposed to being banked so gravity was trying to pull us down through the turn as opposed to pushing us back towards the turn. Because things were so icy, it was almost impossible to get any good edging so changing direction was very challenging. During one attempt, I found myself actually sliding sideways! I finally, after about a dozen botched attempts, figured out the trick to making it around - start turning well before the turn and then I would slide down to about the right point that I could ski the rest. The only issue was this was that though I understood I would slide, my brain kept trying to yell "Danger, danger!" because really, it appeared I was turning directly into the trees! Once I developed the confidence that I wasn't going to end up kissing a tree, things went much better! Right now I am hoping the weather forecast is correct and that there will be snow tonight...that would really help!

After we spent the morning checking out the course and adding significant colour to my left hip from all the falling, Andrea and I headed back out to Saskatchewan House to take in the the Best Buddies Blues Band, a band from LeBoldus High School in Regina. The idea for the band is to pair up students with intellectual disabilities with mainstream students in a jazz band setting and they were quite good! They were very inclusive too, which meant that Andrea, Margarita and myself all got to be up onstage performing with the group. Andrea actually plays a mean xylophone while Margarita and I got the much easier to fake drums. Really, just bang on them in any sort of semblance of rhythm  and you are good to go! We all really enjoyed ourselves!

After our musical interlude, I had dinner with my family and then headed back to the athletes' village to get ready for tomorrow. I had a massage and tried to pack my bags for departure, but my roomie sort of had her stuff spread out all over the place. She insisted that things had to get worse before they got better and really, the mess was actually more funny than anything. So I decided that while she was packing, I would just get out of her way and go do some hot and cold to help flush my legs for tomorrow. So when I left, this first photo is what our room looked like.

Hot and cold is a process of alternating getting into a tub of ice cold water at about a temperature of -10 degrees celsius for about 30 seconds then jumping into a hot tub set at about 40 degrees celsius for 90 seconds and repeating about 4 to 6 times, making sure you always finish off in the cold tub. The idea behind it is that the coldness causes the blood vessels to constrict, forcing blood back up into your core, but the hot water causes them to dilate, bringing new fresh blood into the legs, increasing the amount of oxygen available for the muscles to use and helps remove metabolic waste. It sounds crazy, but it really helps you feel better, especially after a hard workout. But unfortunately, the hot and cold tubs were closed for the night by the time I got there, so it was back to my room for plan B - a cold tub. Not quite as good as doing hot and cold, but still helpful, all you have to do is sit in a bathtub full of cold water. Sounds like fun, eh? Actually, it's not so bad - that is, if you can make it to the 3-minute mark because by then your legs are numb so you don't feel a thing. But those first three minutes can be brutal! All that keeps me in that cold water is the knowledge that I will feel so much better when it's all over!

But when I got back to my room, Andrea was still packing, or at least that is what she told me. It looked like she pretty much had just re-organized the many different piles around the least she was having fun while doing it!

So I had my cold tub, got ready for bed and tomorrow, I will race the sprints! I can hardly wait!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Face of the Day - Lisa Wambold

When Murray's work commitments meant he couldn't ski with me for some key races, he suggested his then-girlfriend-now-wife Lisa Wambold would make a good replacement. Murray thought she would be plenty fast for me and I was desperate for anyone who was willing to guide so I was definitely down with skiing with her, but she wasn't sure she could do it. It took some serious cajoling on both my and Murray's parts to talk her into it - in fact, I told her that I didn't care if she was slower than me, that I just needed to show up at the races to be considered for team selection. So the two of us started skiing together and of course she was absolutely fast enough for me! We hit it off right away both on and off the snow, which made things even more fun. Plus, because she had been skiing with Murray for a year or so, she was darn good technically too and she was more than happy to share what she had learned with me.

I skied the second half of the 2006-07 and all of the 2007-08 season with Lisa and over that time, we shared a lot of laughs. She is the only guide I have ever had who joyfully shouts out "Whoo hoo!" whenever we got going on a fast downhill! One of the funniest things that ever happened with Lisa and I took place during a World Cup race at Mount Washington in 2007. Part of the course had a fast downhill that swung to the left at the bottom. You couldn't see around the corner until you actually got to the bottom, but during the race, I was gliding better than Lisa and stepped out of the tracks so I could go beside her. When we got to the bottom and came screaming around the left hand turn, there was another skier right there! With Lisa on my right and this skier to my left, I had nowhere to go, but right between them! I swear I only had inches! What made that so funny though was Lisa telling me after the race that that skier just happened to be an amputee who was missing her right arm. "If she had had an arm, you would have taken her out for sure!" We both had to laugh at how close we had come to what likely would have been one of our more spectacular wipeouts!

Speaking of wipeouts, Lisa is the only guide who I've crashed into. And yes, it is a good thing this season is over as I write this because I keep telling Andrea there is no possible way I would ever hit her!. In my defense, conditions were really icy and it was at the bottom of a hill with a 90 degree turn that no one was getting around. It was so icy that Lisa couldn't get any edges and she literally slid right in front of me and wham! I took her out. Luckily neither of us were injured and we both could laugh about it.

At Nationals in 2008, Lisa found out she was pregnant. On one hand I was so happy for her because I knew this was something she really wanted. But on the other hand, I was really disappointed that our skiing together competitively was at an end. We'd had so many good times and good races that I was sorry to see her go and was worried the only thing keeping us as friends was the skiing. Luckily, my worries were unfounded as Lisa and I still keep in touch even today. In fact, we even got in a ski together this past winter up at Nickel Plate and it was like we'd been skiing together all winter. - whoo hoos included! So thank you Lisa for everything! I can't put into words how much I enjoyed having you as a guide and I enjoy so much to see the joy and love on your face every time you look at your beautiful daughter Anna. I look forward to many more years of friendship and watching Anna grow up.

Face of the Day - Murray Farbridge

When I first started skiing, I didn't have an idea how to find a guide. I had no connections with any nordic clubs nor did I know anyone who actually skied! In the previous years, Don and I had skied up at Nickel Plate Nordic Centre just outside of Penticton, but we were never there enough each year to really get to know anyone. In February 2006, just after my first camp with Jeff, we went back up there to get in some skiing and one morning, while I was out skiing, Don met the coach up there, Murray Farbridge. Don asked if he'd be willing to give me a lesson, which Murray agreed to do so out we went. Right from the start, Murray was always smiling and always willing to help me become a better skier. He was easy to talk to and his love of skiing was infectious! 

A few weeks later, I was back again and was going to do the Nickel Plate loppet, but Murray talked me out of it, suggesting the club races held the day after would be better suited for me. He knew I needed a guide and said he wouldn't be available, but he offered to take me out and show me the race course so I could manage on my own. But it turned out that he opted not to do the loppet (I forget why, but there was a reason!) and the morning of the club races, he offered instead to guide me. It worked out really well and so when I was invited to attend Nationals in Thunder Bay in March 2006, Murray not only offered to come as my guide, but as BC's para-nordic coach as well. You had to give this guy credit - he'd only been skiing with me for about 6 weeks, had virtually no experience with para-nordic skiing and yet he jumped in with two feet and did a fantastic job - even meeting Tyler who was in a very foul mood didn't deter him and that is really saying something! 

Murray has to have one of the biggest hearts out there. He is always willing to lend a hand or give words of advice and no matter what happens, he just keeps on smiling! Murray was my first official guide and though both of us were new to the concept, we made it work. So thank you Murray for all of your coaching help, your wise words of wisdom, your spontaneity and most of all, for your willingness to take on being a guide without fully knowing what you were getting into! I hope we get many more chances to go out and ski together in the future! 

A Day Down and Out...In A Good Way!

Today was an official day off so no racing for any of us nordic skiers. So what better way to spend the day than exploring Whistler? Our coach Tom, actually organized a scavenger hunt as a team building exercise and had us running all over the place looking for stuff and learning about Whistler. As corny as it sounds, it was a lot of fun! In this photo is Margarita, Mary's sister Leanne, Kathy, Mary, my dad Rick, my mom Margo and yours truly. Among other things, we learned that Whistler was originally called London Mountain because of all the rain and fog and that it got the name Whistler after all of the hoary marmots in the area and the sound that they make. Somehow there seems to be a marmot theme to this ski season....Three Marmots Tea Company in Bessans, including their special Aroma of Marmot flavour (I kid you not!), then the fact that Whistler was named after some breed of marmot and the fact that one of the four Games mascots, Muk muk, is a marmot. 

We had to collect photos of ourselves at certain spots throughout Whistler, including the inukshuk. I was with my mom and dad, Leanne and Margarita and we were awesome! We beat back Andrea's team to the finish by more than 10 minutes even though we left the last checkpoint at the same time...luckily for my team, my dad has a very good sense of direction and found a huge shortcut through some trails back to finish while Andrea and her team stuck to the roads and essentially had to walk all the way around Whistler to get to the finish. Okay, she also stopped to buy some nice gifts along the way so it wasn't just her sense of direction that took all the extra time! And yes, I'm giving her a bad time, but she fully admits to the fact that she is directionally challenged though she has never once taken me the wrong way out on a ski course. Though I'm not sure our wax tech David will be going skiing with Andrea any time soon after she took him out for what was supposed to be a short ski and turned into a 2 1/2 hour tour of Norwegian Woods trail....twice! I think Andrea proved to be a bit too fast for David so he was definitely done by the time they got back.

Because today was a day off, I also got a chance to hang out with my parents and Don a bit in the village along with Joan and Sue. Mom and I did a leisurely tour of the Whistler village while Don and Dad sat outside and enjoyed a cup of coffee. In the evening, Andrea and I, along with Margarita, headed over to Saskatchewan House and ironically, all three of us have a connection to that province. Andrea proudly calls Regina home, my dad was born and grew up in North Battleford and Margarita's parents made the decision to emigrate to Canada from Russia when they competed at some World Cup races held in Saskatchewan in the 1990's. This photo is of Andrea with her parents, Mo and Michelle, at Saskatchewan House. 

So you can see that things have been busy for me, which explains my slow posting, but I'll catch up, I promise!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

5km Classic, Here We Go!

The 5km classic is a race Andrea and I have been targeting for about a year now so we've really been emphasizing training on classic technique over skate so today was the day to lay it all on the line and see how things would turn out. 

When we arrived on-site and went to get our skis, we realized that the wax techs had actually done the wrong skis for us. They did my warm and cold classic skis so I could warm up on my cold ones and race on my warm ones, which were better suited for the conditions, but for Andrea, they did her warm ones and an old pair of mine as her warm ups. Luckily, they were just for warm up, so no big deal! 

I have to say that I was really nervous for this race, much more than for the biathlon pursuit especially because when Andrea and I did a quick check of the course, it was icy. Really icy! On the first downhill, I underestimated just how icy it was and slid right into the snow fence meant to keep skiers from going off course. Better still, because things were so icy, we had klister on our skis and for you non-skiers out there, it pretty much is like having honey on your skis, only stickier and I got my skis tangled up in the ski fence and needed a volunteer to come and rescue me! We carried on though to the longest uphill climb on the course and came rocketing down. I didn't bother checking my speed because at the bottom, there is a slight rise that I have always had to pole up, no matter how good my glide. That is, until today. I tucked the whole way down expecting to slow down at the rise, but it was so fast that Andrea had to get out of my way halfway down and I shot over the rise and instead of making the sharp right hand turn just after the rise, I  sailed right between the v-boards (those blue pyramid-looking things that mark the course) and wiped out on the race course going the other direction! Oh yes, getting good glide wasn't going to be an issue today! Making the sharp turns on the course though.......

At that point, I headed back to the stadium to give feedback to our wax techs about how well our grip was working while Andrea headed out to do a quick check of the rest of the course. When she came back, she greeted me with "Well, I have good news and I have bad news." The good news was the course was in good shape and was fast the whole way. The bad news was that because it was so fast, we had to change our race plan. Andrea's suggestion was that we maximize our glide as much as possible, but that before each corner, we do a short snow plow to kill just enough speed to allow us to actually get around the corner. That sounded like a good tactic to me, but we both also knew that doing that could leave us with no grip for the latter part of the race because every time you snow plow, the abrasive condition of the icy snow would scrape some of the klister off our skis. But really, we didn't have an option because if we didn't do any speed checks, it was likely one or both of us would end up somewhere deep in the woods and way off course. 

We put on our race skis and went out to test our grip wax only to find it was grabbing a little. Not good. The grip was so good that we could have climbed a wall, but the trade-off was that it was grippy when we needed the skis to be gliding, especially around corners! Grabby skis can actually cause significant injury if you are going fast and they suddenly grab, basically launching you forward as if you had hit a curb. Pulled muscles would not be out of the question, or worse. So we ran back to the wax hut and switched back to our warm up skis, which were actually getting just as good of grip without the grab. And the mistake the wax techs had made with waxing my old classic skis turned out to be a real blessing in that they are 5cm shorter than my race skis, making them easier to turn. The only thing the warm-up skis didn't have was the race glide wax, but with conditions already screamin' fast, that really wasn't an issue. In fact, slightly slower skis were what everyone was looking for! 

We ran down to the start area and got ready to go and really, that is the worst part of racing! All I wanted  to do was get out there. My favourite part of racing, other than the feeling of euphoria just after I finish a great race, is just after the start when all the butterflies just disappear and all I am thinking about is our race plan. The 5km classic went exactly to plan, with only a few minor hiccups and I was thrilled with that! At the finish line, I told Andrea I didn't care what our time was, we had done the best job possible! Turns out, it was the fastest time we've ever skied that course - 20:12 - and finished 11th overall. We both thought with how we raced, our time would have ranked us higher, but still, we did the best we could and can't be disappointed in that. I was so happy! Now, the sprints on Sunday!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hunt for Rick Mercer

So if you don't know who Rick Mercer is, he's hosts The Mercer Report on CBC. Over the past few years, he's done more than a few stories about Canada's Paralympic athletes and he was out here today to ski with Brian and Robin McKeever. Andrea and I decided that we'd go try and find him partly because we actually did want to meet him and partly because we were looking for something entertaining to do. So I phoned our media relations officer Chris and he had no issue with us showing up at the shoot so off we went!

Because these Games are being covered by CTV (or at least that is what CTV is pretending to do), Rick and his crew couldn't get access to Whistler Olympic Park so they had to do the interview at Callaghan so we put on our skate skis and went looking. It wasn't too long before we found him, but we really hadn't thought that far ahead about what we would do when we actually did find him so myself, Andrea, Margarita and Robert basically just stood in a group watching. Very suave on our part, wouldn't you say? Not so much!

Anyway, we got invited over by the cameraman so we skied up and he basically just asked who we were before heading out on skis with Brian and Robin. So mission accomplished, but I didn't have the guts to ask if we could get a picture with him. So we skied back to Whistler Olympic Park, got some good photos at the ski jump (the photos don't do it justice as to how steep it really is) and made a beeline for the first bus we could find because it rained all morning and we were soaked. The only one who was remotely dry was Robert who chose to ski in a poncho, but us three girls put getting wet ahead of skiing in plastic.

Anyway, when we got back to the village, who should show up in our Canadian athletes' lounge but Rick Mercer! So in the end, I got my photo. It was amazing to see how quick he is in person. If he made any sort of mistake while being filmed, he would pause for about a second then redo it so they could just edit it out later. Anyway, it was an entertaining day! I'm not usually a celebrity chaser and I certainly felt like a geek asking to get a photo with him, but as soon as I did it, so did a whole bunch of others so apparently, I'm not the only fan.

Face of the Day - Joan Reid

I met Joan at NorAms in 2006 and she has been a good buddy ever since. Even though she hadn't been an athlete before her injury, she took on the challenge of making the 2010 Paralympic team as a cross-country sit-skier. Joan always put that goal above everything else and truly became a full-time athlete.

As part of her cross-training, Joan started rowing and qualified to represent Canada at the 2008 World Championships in Germany. Unfortunately, she broke a rib at that competition and that set her training back for the 2008-2009 ski season because she missed more than a few weeks of endurance base training over the summer recovering from her injury. Joan didn't let that stop her though and she kept training and working towards her goal of representing Canada here at the Vancouver Games. Sometimes though in sport, you need a little luck and for Joan, Lady Luck was not on our side. She missed qualifying for the 2008 World Cup team simply because we only get one shot in November to make the team and she just wasn't back to being 100%. She continued to race locally and nationally that season, but by March, she still wasn't feeling like she had before her injury and decided to stop skiing competitively.

Even though she herself is no longer racing, Joan continues to be one of my biggest supporters. More than once, I have emailed or phoned her to vent when I'm frustrated with how my skiing is going and she always is willing to listen and offer words of encouragement. And when I email or phone her to celebrate my good races, she shares in my joy. She has been a constant supporter of my skiing adventures and I have very much appreciated her passion for the sport as well as her wise words of wisdom.

Since I have been a high performance athlete for the past 18 years, the idea of no longer competing is a scary one. What am I going to be if I'm no longer an athlete? What will I do? Joan has shown me that there is life after sport and that the transition might not be as scary as I originally thought. Her decision to stop competing has made me really think about whether or not I want to continue competing or whether it is time to move on to something new. That decision will have to be made, but not right now....

Joan also happens to be a lover of chocolate, which is always a good thing! But we do have a team policy to help Joan overcome her fear of vegetables and fruit, though I'm pretty sure we are failing on all fronts in that battle. I gave her a fridge magnet a year ago that says "I din't climb to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian" and that pretty much sums up Joan's food philosophy. Who knew that strawberries and pineapple were yucky?

In spending time with Joan, I have also realized just how inaccessible our world still is for people in wheelchairs. Even relatively new buildings aren't always accommodating for people in wheelchairs. Think about this for just one day while you go through your daily activities. Take note of how many places you go that don't have level entries or ramps to get in and elevators that go to all the floors. Think about how many counters at places like banks and businesses are low enough for anyone sitting in a wheelchair to easily see over. Consider how many things you need to use or reach for when you go shopping are accessible to someone in a wheelchair. When you visit a public washroom, check to see if there is a stall with extra room for a wheelchair user. If you take the time, you'll realize that for people in wheelchairs, there are still a lot of barriers to be overcome! And things often get worse, not better, when you leave the more urban centres. Many nordic centres, for example, aren't even remotely accessible so while all of us can go in to get changed or sit by a warm fire, wheelchair users cannot. Why can't we just design things to always be accessible in the first place? To make that happen, people need to open their minds.....

Monday, March 15, 2010

Funny Things That Happen (Or At Least We Think They Are Funny!)

So luckily for us, our team has a good sense of humour and everyone has made a funny comment at some point. So here are some of the funnier things that have happened to us...or at least we think they are! Likely this will be a case of "You had to be there." but maybe not.

First, Andrea thanked the housekeeping staff for tidying up our room and the woman turned around and said "No, no, it's an honour!"As she said this, she was cleaning the toilet. Okay...either way, thank you for your hard work!

Second, when I asked my 6-year old nephew what his favourite part was about opening ceremonies, he said, "It was when I got to eat a really big hot dog and there was ketchup and mustard everywhere!" Okay, I hope you really enjoyed it because the ticket cost us $100 so that better have been one good dog! Hopefully as he gets older, he'll remember some of the actual ceremony! He wants to be a snoreboarder when he grows up (he has yet to figure out that everyone else calls it snowboarding, not snoreboarding) so maybe he'll remember what his aunt did in Vancouver 2010....

We got these awesome jackets that are white with greyish black geometric lines on it we've nicknamed zebra jackets (no two are exactly alike) and have a lot of comments about how fantastic they look, but none quite as good as the volunteer in the cafeteria who followed Jamie around and told him just how good he looked in it. Jamie just politely smiled and thanked her, but she persisted by pointing Jamie out to some other volunteers who also agreed the jacket looked good. That still wasn't enough for the volunteer though who felt she had to make Jamie really understand so she grabbed Jamie by the forearm and said, "You look really hot in that jacket!". So if we need any sort of distraction in smuggling food out of the cafeteria, we'll just send Jamie as our decoy because he's so hot looking, all the girls will be swooning.

Andrea is in seventh heaven here because her favourite beverage is diet Coke and in the village at at all the venues, there are Coke machines that we have special swipe passes for that let us get free drinks. Obviously Andrea's not the only one though who likes Coke because when she was waiting to make a massage appointment at the polyclinic, the athlete in front of her was just finishing up with making her booking. The receptionist asked that athlete for her accreditation, typed in all the info he needed and gave it back. But a guy standing next to the receptionist said, "Oh, could I have your accreditation for a sec?" So she passed it over to him and he then disappeared with it. Our accreditation is our lifeline here to everything - getting on buses, getting into the cafeteria, you name it, we need our accreditation for it! So you can understand that she was a little bit worried and she turned to Andrea who could only shrug as if to say, "I have no idea!"Suddenly the guy reappeared though holding a Coke and passed the athlete back her accreditation. He obviously had used her swipe card to score himself a Coke! Sneaky!

Anyway, it's also been entertaining watching Robert work his magic in the pin trading market here. I don't really trade pins because at my first Games, I gave up most of my best pins for what I thought were good trades only to have a really good look at them and realize I'd been had. I traded a rare team Canada pin once for a Colgate toothpaste pin and realized I just wasn't meant to be a pin trader so I've given all my pins to Robert. By the end of the Games, he should be able to say "Pin?" in a multitude of languages.

So tonight is the Friends and Family reception so I'll get to see some friends which will be nice. As Andrea said, living in the village is like living in an alternate universe so it will be nice to touch base with people on the outside!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Busy, Busy...So Here is a Recap....

Well, it has been a few crazy days so here is a recap of what has been happening....

First, the village is great! Because these Games are smaller than the summer edition, everything is nice and close. Within just a short walk, we have access to the transportation hub, the medical polyclinic, laundry services, entertainment area, international zone and the cafeteria. It's really nice having everything so close!

Opening ceremonies were fantastic! I have been to four previous summer Paralympic Games, but walking into the opening ceremonies in your hometown, let alone home country, was unbelievable! The air was electric with all of the energy in the place! I really can't put into words how awesome it was, but I had a huge smile on my face the whole time and was jumping up and down I was so excited! It was an experience I will not forgot the rest of my life and it made all of the hard work and sacrifice over the past few years worth it. Go, Canada, go!

We had the option of walking into opening ceremonies and then heading home because it's a two hour bus ride from Vancouver back to the village in Whistler, but Andrea and I both decided we wanted to stay for the show, even though we were set to race the biathlon pursuit the next morning. We didn't want to miss out on any of the magic of opening ceremonies and our plan has always been to use the biathlon pursuit race as a chance to get the competition jitters out of the way before the races we have been targeting for the past year, that is, the 5km classic on March 18th and the 1.2km sprint on March 21st. I dozed a little bit on the way home and made sure I was pretty much packed for the next morning so I could sleep in as much as possible. Things actually went better than planned and I was in bed just after midnight.

To be honest, I was worried the couple of days before the biathlon pursuit race that I was going to be flat for it, but when I started to warm up the thrill of competing at home certainly gave me a boost and I felt really good and ready to go. The biathlon pursuit race is 3 x 1km with one round of shooting between each lap. Our plan was to do two controlled laps so I could get in good shooting and then go as best we could on the last lap. In my first round of shooting, I only missed one shot, which was awesome! Margarita started 30 seconds ahead of us on the start, but I made up some time in the range and on the ski in the first lap so when we came out of the range, she was only about 100m ahead of us. Andrea encouraged me to go after her as a target. but I tripped myself up and fell...oops! I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, but by then Margarita was up the first hill and out of sight. It's good that we're close in time because we can use each other to make both of us faster...the chaser and and chasee! Margarita is a great hill climber so I was forced to try and make up ground on the downhill and flats into the range on the second lap and I had no idea where she was when I came into the range other than she was in front of me.

For the second round of shooting, I got directed into lane 12, which at first made me say "Oh no!" because all of the guns sound pretty much the same, except lane 12 which was a little flat. It may have, in retrospect, have been a good thing though because it forced me to be extra careful and I only missed one shot in that round as well. But as we headed out on the third lap, Andrea told me that Margarita was still in the range shooting so we had to move it up the hill if we wanted to stay ahead of her. As I said, Margarita is a fantastic hill climber so I was essentially running scared all the way up! I could hear Robert, Margarita's guide, calling out directions to her the whole way up so that gave me an extra boost of adrenaline! I just kept saying to myself, "Get to the top first, you have to get to the top first!" And we did! We pushed over the top and into the downhill back into the stadium, which was important because if they had caught us, there would have been four of us trying to negotiate a fast and tight turn back into the stadium. As I approached the corner, I kept telling myself, "Stay standing, stay standing!" If I had wiped out, Margarita certainly would have blown by me and I would have lost valuable time. As it turned out, I hammered it along the back of the range and into the finish. As I crossed the line, I couldn't help but raise my arms in celebration! For our first ever Paralympic Games race, Andrea and I had handled the pressure and laid down on of our best races ever. We finished 9th overall and mussed advancing to the final by just 25 seconds - a huge improvement over our results in the same event at the World Cup series in Europe where I finished 12th overall and was more than two minutes out of qualifying. So the pressure is off - we've proven we can compete against the best in the world and hold our own!

So we'll get in some training over the next few days in preparation for the 5km classic on Thursday and I'll try and get in some rest.....there is a nasty cold circulating through our group and so far I have been immune, but I'm trying to get in lots of rest and stay away from those who are sick.

Anyway, I'll try and post next time I get some free time, but I can't promise when that will be....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Welcome to the Paralympic Village!

Okay, I have posted for a few days, but I have a good excuse - I've been a little bit busy getting settled here in the Paralympic, I can't believe I just said that! I think Andrea said it perfectly when she said it's like we are living in an alternative universe! We seem to easily lose track of what day it is and there is so much to see and do....

Take today for example: I woke up at 7:15am only to have doping control knock on my door at 7:30am. Oops, sorry guys, you were about five minutes too late! So I had a chaperone hanging out with me while I got organized for the day and at breakfast, including two bottles of water and a cup of tea, then back to my room to get all my gear. Then I went to doping control and was hoping things would go quickly because Andrea had an interview with CBC en fran├žais, but they wanted video of us skiing together so I had to get up to Callaghan before 9:30am. Things went well in that they went fast, but not so well in that my sample was too dilute. In that case, doping control gets to continue be my shadow so off we went up to Callaghan to meet up with Andrea. I immediately when to doping control for a second time, only to have that sample also too dilute. The good thing about that is that they can only ask for two samples, but the bad news is that they might come looking for me again in the next few days. I offered to have the chaperone follow me around, hoping that maybe third time lucky, but they said that I'm not under suspicion so the likelihood they'd come for me again was slim. As long as they don't come on one of the mornings I race, I'm okay with that.

Anyway, after I finished all of that, it was about 10:30am so I went and found Andrea, only to find out that the CBC guy had gone to the alpine area instead of Callaghan. So Andrea directed him to Callaghan and asked if he had accreditation to get past security, which he indicated he did. The next phone call Andrea got from him was that he couldn't make it up because he didn't have the right media pass. Oops!

Andrea and I finally got our ski in, which went well, then we raced back to the lodge to shower before jumping on a bus to head back to the Village. We went straight to lunch, then straight to the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) team office for another interview, this time with CBC Vancouver.

Once that was out of the way, I headed back to my room hoping to have a nap. Wishful thinking! I unpacked all my wet gear from this morning, then I went to track down the team doctor to get a referral so I could go for massage at the polyclinic (only the senior team athletes have access to our CCC team medical staff), then I had to walk over to the clinic to book an appointment. After that, I went back up to the athlete lounge to email the Madshus rep Reece to see if our new poles are going to make it out before our first race. Then I made a quick phone call to check on the status of everyone staying there before I headed back to my room for a nap, only to find out we had a team meeting at 4:30pm. So I laid down for 15 minutes before heading out to meeting, which finished at 4:30pm so I went back to lay down for another 15 minutes before we headed out for the Team Canada pep rally. I was really tired by this point and contemplated not going, but really, at the only Paralympic Games ever I will be at on Canadian soil? Not a chance! So I ran over to the cafeteria and got a coffee to wake me up.

Then it was off to the pep rally which lasted about an hour, but was really awesome! It is fantastic to have the home crowd advantage! Lots of cheering and crazy dancing by athletes, volunteers and spectators alike!

After the pep rally, Andrea and I headed out for dinner at the cafeteria, but I had to rush through in order to make my 7:30pm massage appointment. Got home from that at 8:15pm and then had a quick look at email and now am posting to my blog. As soon as this is done, I'm going to bed! Phew, what a day! Tomorrow I am hoping to have a quiet afternoon - that is, right after we get in our ski and the interview for French CBC! So much to do and so little time! That is the danger of being in the Village because it is very easy to get pulled into all the excitement and lose focus on the goal of being here, which of course is competing to the best of our ability.