Since I started skiing, Jeff has been Cross-Country Canada’s development coach for western Canada and he’s the one responsible for organizing the first camp I ever attended up at Mount Washington in January 2006. For most of the years since, Jeff has been the coach responsible for relating to me as a Cross-Country Canada athlete.
I had such a good time at that first Mount Washington camp that I wanted to keep skiing so my desire to be a winter Paralympian got kick-started by Jeff. He has always made skiing enjoyable and has been one of my biggest supporters.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned from Jeff is that even though cross-country skiing is an individual, not team, sport, if we work together, we all will be better athletes individually. Jeff never actually preached this philosophy, but rather led by example by always taking an athlete-centered approach that encouraged us to work together to make each and every one of us better. The result is that the group of athletes who have come up through the ranks with me are some of my favourite people. Which is a good thing, because we have spent an awful lot of time together over the last few years! We might compete against each other on the racecourse, but before and after, we are very supportive of each other and I believe that has a lot to do with Jeff having implicitly set that tone right from the start. Jeff continues to prove that united we stand, divided we fall really does apply! Other coaches could learn a lot from Jeff in that regard!
But I do have to say that we believe we’ve had at least some of an impact on Jeff too. When he first started travelling with us, a lot of the time we weren’t skiing, Jeff could be found sitting behind his laptop trying to look busy and oblivious to what we were talking about. But we knew better because whenever someone said something funny (and that happens a lot with this group!), Jeff would laugh too. Okay, it was just a little laugh and I know he tried to downplay it, but still, it was proof that he was listening to us! And because of us, especially Mary, Jeff has gone from being a reluctant hugger to someone who always greets us with a huge smile and open arms.
The only complaint I have about Jeff is that ever since I met him, I thought he hated chocolate. That is until Andrea blew his cover. She told me just a week ago that he is a junk food artist and is often not without a chocolate bar nearby. How he managed to keep that secret under wraps for four years is a major accomplishment given the number of athletes in our group that like chocolate! I guess it doesn’t make it too hard though when you realize that three of us are legally blind. Smart move Jeff - if we didn’t know you had chocolate, you didn’t have to share… ;-)
So a huge thank you Jeff for all of your hard work and dedication to para-nordic skiing. Thank you for making the sport fun, for always being there for me and for always believing I could make the team, even when I didn’t believe it myself.