Whistler was the site of some great Paralympic performances for Canadian skiers just over three years ago. Now, the national para-alpine team is hopeful it can be a breeding ground for more of the same in Sochi.
The team is spending the majority of its summer in Whistler as it prepares for the 2013-14 season. Many athletes have been arriving in the resort over the past week for the first of three training blocks that will last several weeks each.
It’s the first time that the para-alpine squad has spent extended periods together during the summer months. Having access to affordable and accessible housing at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre Lodge, right next door to the High Performance Training Centre facilities, made the resort a perfect temporary home for the team, said head coach Jean-Sébastien Labrie.
“For us, Whistler is the perfect place,” he said.
With one winter season just having wrapped up, early May might not seem like a critical time for the athletes in their preparations for next year, and motivation can be tough to find right on the heels of the past season. But the Paralympic Games will be ongoing in Sochi, Russia, in 10 months’ time, and each day between now and then is a new opportunity to get ready. Sit-skier Caleb Brousseau said thoughts of competing at Sochi are constantly in the back of the team’s mind, and this time of year is no exception.
“It’s in everything that we do. Every rep that we push (in the gym) before we go, we’re going to think about why we’re doing that rep,” said Brousseau, who already lives in Whistler full time but is glad to have his teammates join him here for the summer. “Why are we here? Why do you need to push this rep? Why not wait until tomorrow?
“Really, it’s because if we do it today, we’ll be ready for Sochi when we get there.”
Some members of the team, such as Paralympic medallists Josh Dueck and Kimberly Joines, aren’t in Whistler for this first block of offseason training but will join the remainder of the squad for the next session in late June through mid-July.
“For me, it’s not so much about the long training sessions as the environment that it creates — having everyone in the same place … and all be working towards the same thing,” said para-alpine team veteran Matt Hallat.
Though training in Whistler for the summer has worked out conveniently for Sea to Sky residents Brousseau and Hallat, it’s a big change for others on the team who have uprooted themselves for the offseason.
“It was tough,” said Duncan’s Braydon Luscombe, a 20-year-old who had his leg amputated as a child and competes in the standing class. “But especially with this year, where I may be going into my first Paralympics, you never know when you might get that opportunity again, and when you look back, will you have done everything you could have done to do as well as you can do at the Paralympics? That’s what really pushed me.
“I was a little leery on doing the move here … but it’ll all work out and after chatting with my parents about it, I was like ‘Yeah, I’ve got to make the move, for sure.’ ”
By staying and training together at the Olympic legacy amenities, the athletes not only have meals prepared for them and access to a tremendous training facility, but also a chance for all to receive direct instruction from training and sport psychology support staff on an ongoing basis. It’s never been like that in past summers for the para-alpine team.
“It’s going to be really great. We get to work with our trainer everyday, whereas usually we hear from him and stay in contact, but it’s from a distance because he doesn’t live in the same place as all of us,” said standing skier Alexandra Starker, 18. The Calgary native agreed that continuing to develop team camaraderie will be another important element of the summer camps.
“Usually, we’ll see each other just for just a week or two during the summer, so it’s great to be able to keep up those friendships and build that team morale.”
Many other teams, such as the Canadian ski cross and freestyle ski teams are expected to make use of the Whistler legacy facilities as they ramp up towards Sochi next year. The para-alpine team’s current training block runs until June 3, with the final one to take place through September.