Erin Mielzynski has been skiing for most of her life, and for Team Canada since 2008. Her love of the sport is clear in every turn, every flat, and in every moment on the mountain. But the longer she competed and raced for Canada the more she longed to have a legacy that meant more than podiums.
“I have always felt selfish in this pursuit of excellence,” says Erin. “I have tried to be the best person that I can be, however I felt like I wasn’t giving back enough. As a team, we spend most of our season away from Canada, which means that the younger generations never get to see us train, talk to us or get to know us. We are just faces on their screens.”
Skiing, as she puts it, needed to start to mean more to her to keep the motivation high and the drive alive. And in a season so heavily impacted by COVID-19 last year, she saw an opportunity to create community when it was at its most distant.
It was from here that the A Ripple of Light bib project was born.
“Creating the bib project last year was something that I’m very proud of in my career. It was a sense of giving back, connecting with our Canadian racers, and adding some motivation during those tough COVID times. It filled me with an incredible sense of purpose,” Erin reflects.
This year, the project has set its sights even higher, and has partnered with some important organizations to take things to the next level. Grayhawk Wealth stepped up to the plate first, approaching Erin with a potential partnership opportunity. As the two sides connected, they realized that the goal for both parties was the same: work towards something special and impact young women in the ski racing world.
“When Grayhawk stepped in to cover the costs of the bibs, it made it possible to move forward with the project this season. Without Grayhawk, I wouldn’t have been able to raise the funds to pay for my season as well as the funds for the bibs,” says Erin.
With the bibs now covered, the question turned to design and what they would represent. And this is where a very special girl named Abby takes centre stage.
“I first heard about the Abby Award when I saw their logo sewn on some of my teammates’ jackets,” says Erin. “I learned that Abby was a young racer who loved the simple things in life, was an amazing friend and teammate, and simply loved to ski. She absolutely embodied motivation, optimism, and resilience. At the age of nine, Abby hit a tree while skiing and tragically passed; that young girl was not able to realize all of her dreams and that love of skiing was cut short.”
Abby’s parents, David and Jessie Wunsch, created the Abby Award in her honour, to be given to the U10 athlete that best portrays hard work, positivity, and a love for the sport. The award is Canada-wide, in all provinces and at 96 ski clubs, spreading Abby’s message of positivity and love for skiing to young racers nationwide.
This year’s bib design will carry her legacy even further. A photo of Abby in the gates will be on the front, with a photo of Erin in the gates on the back.
“I want to help spread Abby’s story even further, and what better way to do it than physically carrying her logo and picture with me down each mountain I conquer,” Erin says. “And it will be absolutely amazing to see so many young ski racers in the project doing the same.”
“What I love about the design is that it shows a young girl’s love for the sport, the beginning, the dreams, the joy, and the nerves,” she continues. “She reminds me to bring bravery, motivation and joy to each run. And I hope I can pass that on to our upcoming generations of young female ski racers as well.”
Abby’s parents feel like these lyrics from Katy Perry describe Abby well: “You just gotta ignite your light and let it shine.” With this bib, Erin and her project are taking that one step further. She is encouraging all young racers to ignite their own lights, to light up the world around us, and to use the flames to ignite the flames of others.
“My goal with the bib project is to leave a small part of myself back home in Canada,” says Erin. “To try to connect all of our female ski racers in Canada, to motive them and build inspiration through our collective stories. I am hopeful that we can carry on Abby’s legacy, bringing a love for the sport that has never been seen before, and I hope that every club in Canada will reach out to the Abby Award to sign up for their project. This is how we will pass on the flame, igniting our lights all over the country.”
Erin has noticed a huge issue keeping girls in sport; roughly one third of girls in sport drop out compared to one in 10 boys. By creating a community that celebrates the love of sport and skiing in particular, it’s her goal to help young girls overcome these odds to realize their sporting dreams as well.
“Sport has taught me so much,” she says. “How to be brave, how to get back up, how to stay motivated and how to chase my dreams. It taught me how to stand up for myself, to advocate for what I believe in, to deal with criticism and how to ask for help. I wouldn’t be who I am without the sporting community. So, if I can help keep just one girl in sport, if I can make sure that girl continues to love skiing forever and passes this love on to others, if she can use what she learns in sport to become happier in life … then I will know that I ignited one other flame, and that is enough.”