CANADA’S NEXT-GEN PARA-ALPINE SKIERS FIND SILVER LINING IN A RACE-LESS SEASON
Contributor: Ben Steiner
For Michaela Gosselin, and Brian Rowland, both next-gen para-alpine athletes and Logan Leach, a national prospect the 2020-21 season was not the start of a World Cup career that they had hoped for or expected.
No one on the team has raced this winter, and nobody will. While it stings to be missing out on the World Cups and World Championships, all three have found the silver lining: being able to train more than anyone could have predicted. The team has held training camps this season, mainly in British Columbia at Kimberley and Panorama, as well as a planned dryland camp at Whistler. Without racing, they have been able to train and get ready for next season, which will hopefully include World Cup races and the Paralympics.
Leach, a visually impaired para-alpine skier, and Petit, his guide, found one of the major advantages of this season is skiing with a full para-team. “We’re skiing with the World Cup team, which is good for us. Normally, we are with the Okanagan Ski Team, which is able-bodied, but having this season is really good,” Petit said.
The pair have also leaned on more experienced team members such as Paralympic champion Mac Marcoux and guide Tristan Rodgers. Leach, who has yet to race a World Cup event, rides chairs with Marcoux, an experience that has been invaluable to him. Meanwhile, Petit has also found benefits in being around Rodgers. “We talk every day and try to do inspection together once in a while so that we can get some tricks from them.”
Leach and Petit are not the only ones who have benefitted from a season of training; the same goes for Gosselin and Rowland.
Gosselin raced able-bodied with Osler Bluff Ski Club until the end of U16. After a cancer diagnosis led to a scapulectomy of her left shoulder, she switched her focus to coaching and other sports for a few years. Last season, Gosselin returned to ski racing with the Ontario Para-Alpine Ski Team. She sees advantages and disadvantages to this season.
“You win some, you lose some, next year I’m going to have a lot of big races, and since I’ve never raced a World Cup before, it’s good that I'm getting to train and work on my skills more,” said the 20-year-old. “Most other sports aren’t able to train right now, and we’re very fortunate in that case that we’re getting some of the best training.”
While the Paralympics aren’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind, Gosselin has them circled on her calendar. “It is what I’m preparing for, and it is probably that and the World Championships that are the biggest motivators right now.”
Brian Rowland, 34, is one of the most intriguing personalities on the team. Jetskiing and participating in other extreme sports outside of skiing, he is one of only two sit skiers alongside Paralympic champion Kurt Oatway. In his second season with the team, the Ontarian has been busy learning the ropes.
Fairly new to the sport of ski racing, he has found the volume of training rewarding. This season, however, has thrown him through an emotional roller coaster. “I was pretty stoked to be able to race at the World Championships, and that all got shut down,” said Rowland. “All of that was kind of hard on me, but it’s just the way things are this year, and I wasn’t surprised but disappointed.”
While no racing is disappointing, Rowland knows the risk of COVID-19, and the obstacles he would face traveling in the world’s current state when getting on planes in a wheelchair is already a challenge for him.
This season, staying in Canada, he has learned from his teammate Oatway. “What he’s learned through trial and error, I have learned the easy way. He learned the hard way, and I’m basically copying what he does,” Rowland said. “Just asking him to verbalize what he’s thinking so I can get on the same page as him; he’s got a wealth of knowledge in the sport.” If it weren’t for having ample training time, the mentorship between the two might not have evolved the way it has. LA RELÈVE DE L’ÉQUIPE CANADIENNE DE SKI PARA-ALPIN TROUVE UN CÔTÉ POSITIF À UNE SAISON SANS COURSES
With a Paralympic year approaching, the amount of training this season has been crucial to everyone on the team; especially the next-gen skiers, who have made massive strides this season. Although it can be challenging to see their competitors racing in Europe, Logan, Michaela, and Brian know that they will be better positioned to challenge for the sport’s most significant medals.