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Setting Up for the Games

It’s a strange way to live, but for almost four years I’ve been fixated on a single date. I ask myself in the evening whether I have done what I could that day to achieve my goals. When I rock a workout, I get a smile thinking about that date. On days where I don’t want to go outside, I think about that date, put on a grimace and get the workout done. A goal is the most powerful tool to achieve any success. That is what that date is to me - my goal. A goal that on that day I am prepared to be at my best. For the past four years that date has been March 10, 2018. Day 1 of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The other driving force I used throughout the past four years to get me through the tough days was 0.7sec. The difference between Silver and a Paralympic Gold in Sochi. I knew I would have to be faster than just a single second but the 0.7sec reminded me that years of hard work would go into becoming a Paralympic Champion. That from now on that success would only come from attention to the smallest of details. I would put in years of work to metaphorically be a second faster.

The goal for the year (really the last four) was in March but before that there a few World Cups that I needed to focus on. Starting off with the home World Cup in Canmore, which wasn’t my best World Cup but when I compared it to the December World Cup in 2013, I was right where I wanted to be in this Games’ year. Then there was the German World Cup. I saw and felt an improvement in my fitness. By no means was it my best World Cup, actually some of the worst Biathlon results in a couple of years. Besides a fun night racing under the lights, I struggled a little in the Biathlon races. In Cross Country, my confidence in my classic and the team’s wax staff reached new heights. I left Germany with excitement for the classic races at the Games but knowing I had a few areas that I needed to clean up to truly be at my best.

With a week or so of rest in Canmore, the final training block began. This is my favorite part of training when everything narrows down to a single focus. I feel I have a greater drive during a block like this. I was excited to be in the final preparations for the Games. To be able to do that training in some of Western Canada’s most beautiful landscapes makes it all the easier to get out there. Spending some incredible days training in Kananaskis Country and around Lake Louise as part of our prep block is a pleasure. To transition from the volume to speed I went to Red Deer for the day and raced a the Calforex Cup event there. A test event for next year’s Canada Winter Games. I thought it was great prep for Korea. Sections of flatter slightly rolling terrain punched with some big steep climbs, very similar to what the courses were to be in Korea. And Red Deer is right alongside a golf course as well, so it made it all the more similar to the Alpensia Biathlon Center. The race there was a 20km Individual, and the first time I have ever done a full-length Men’s Individual. I started out not feeling that great but with each lap, I felt better and therefore was skiing better as the time went by. I was focused on control in the range and shooting clean while skiing as efficiently as I could. I got my clean shooting, and I tried to impose some self-inflicted pressure. I was very happy with how it all went.

The time had finally come! Flying to Japan for the team’s staging camp before making the final short trip to Seoul and onto PyeongChang. We chose this particular area of Japan to have our staging camp because it is not known for insane dumps of snow as other Japanese areas are. Well, someone forgot to tell the weatherman that. We arrived late at night at the hotel, and everything looked great. Woke up the next morning to about 20cm of fresh snow and it was still coming down. It would do that for the next two days. Our first few workouts in Japan were of an adventurous variety. I remember going out the first afternoon for a second workout. I stepped off a slightly plowed road into the snow bank where the trail was supposed to start and I sunk in right up to my thigh. I had to take a few steps like this to get a spot where I could get my skis on. Which wasn’t easy, to begin with, and more so as I burst into a fit of laughter at lumbering through this much snow. Once I got my skis on I was still sinking in a foot and a half as I was plowing through the snow. It was a record-breaking amount of snow for the area, near a metre and a half in total. That made for an interesting start to the camp. The remainder of the camp was thankfully less snowy. I got in the work I needed, and the team came together on the final day for a fun and thrilling team sprint intensity. A part of this Japanese camp was to encourage some time to relax and chill after all the work has been done over the past few years to take a moment allowing the final pieces to come together.

On March 6, the team flew from Sapporo to Seoul, then had a bus ride to our final destination of PyeongChang. Now the feeling was the Games had begun. The first day in PyeongChang was more about figuring out the surroundings. Learning the bus routes and schedules, where everything was like the Dining Hall, laundry, etc., or if there were issues who to contact, sorting everything out so that I wouldn’t need to waste time and effort on it later. At the venue, I skied all the trails to get a feel how it was all set up. Exploring the stadium set up to feel out the time it would take to get to certain areas of the venue.

The next day, March 8, I had my final intensity session before the Games. A few hard efforts to put the final touches on preparation for the upcoming races. I’m pleased to say that everything was where I wanted it to be. I did feel a little tight in my legs, but not in a normal way; it felt powerful like I had a lot of ‘stored’ power. I was ready to go. Had a quick nap before going out for an easy classic ski in the afternoon. That evening was a bit exciting for the Nordic team as Team Canada’s Flag-Bearer for the Opening Ceremonies was to be announced. After a little investigative work the previous night my conclusion of who the Flag-Bearer would be was confirmed- Nordic’s very own, Brian McKeever. That evening we had the official announcement and as much a celebration that a group of Nordic skiers would spend the night before the Games. So not much!

The eve of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. I had an easier final race prep. Tightening the final screws so to speak on the range. Tested a few skis and had a couple of pairs that were on their way to becoming rockets. The big event of the day was the Opening Ceremonies. Once again I made the decision not to attend the Opening, choosing to stay home resting for the following day. I would be up at the venue the following morning at 10. With the Opening Ceremonies, there is a lot of standing around, marshaling and waiting as you get ready to walk into the stadium. All which is not conducive to the best performance in the coming days for Nordic skiing. The Games, for me, were going to be about energy management. By not attending the Opening Ceremonies but rather watching them from my room was going to be the most efficient.

* I apologize in advance for filling everyone’s inboxes up with this series of four updates. I’m excited to share my 2018 Paralympic Games experience and couldn’t stop writing.

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