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The Best for Last

Entering the final weekend of the Games, I had two races left. For Saturday's race, I had nothing left. You can only take so much energy from the body before the performances get affected. I'm happy I did my best with what I had left, but I'm disappointed I wasn't closer to the sharp end of the race. It was the first race where I wondered if I chose to race too much in Beijing. Yes, I'm disappointed in the result, but I believe it would have bothered me more if I had not raced. The conditions that day was horrendous. Some of the slowest, dirtiest snow I have ever seen. I never successfully adjusted my skiing to make the most of those conditions. We witnessed some of the craziest weather in recent memory during the Olympics. We knew that it had the potential to be cold, even extremely cold, and it would be windy. The wind made it feel cooler still, but it dried out the snow even more. Not that there was much moisture to start with. The Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre is in a desert or on the edge of one, where humidity is minimal. All these factors together made for extremely slow snow during the Olympics. We tasted that a bit on our first few days in Beijing. But we expected it would be cooler our first few days, maybe a week before the weather shifts and the sun's strength starts to make a significant impact. That came true. The weather did almost exactly what our wax staff had predicted. Many athletes were seen with face tape during the Olympics to protect their faces from the bitterly cold winds and prevent frostbite. But during much of the Paralympics, we needed sunscreen. And we were, or at least Team Canada was, racing in short sleeves.

PC: Canadian Paralympic Committee, Dave Holland

After my lacklustre performance in the last individual race, I was more determined to regain my best for the last day. The Cross Country Mixed Relay was the final competition of the Games. A unique opportunity to come together with teammates and compete as Team Canada. We have been thinking about this relay for a few years. It was about putting years of prep into performance on the day. The first leg is classic; we had one of our sit-skiers, Collin Cameron, leading us off on the sit-ski course. The second leg was a skating leg on the standing course, and we had Emily Young. All the legs are 2.5km. The third leg was back to the sit-ski course and classic. This is the leg I was doing. Natalie Wilkie skied the anchor leg. My role on the team was pretty simple, start hard, go hard, catch anyone ahead of me, and give Natalie as much a lead as I could. That was perhaps my best race of the entire Games. I'm so proud of the team. Each skier had a fantastic leg, combined we had a great result. That was the best to wrap up the Games, sharing a medal with teammates. Six races in nine days, medaling in four of the events. I'm very proud of the continued success in the Biathlon events. There were moments when I was not pleased with some bouts of my shooting. The Sprint race was a wake-up call that served well for the remaining two events. I learned a lot throughout this experience before and during the Games.

In a turn of nostalgia and to step down from the hype and excitement of the Games. I choose to travel to Whistler for the 2022 Ski Nationals. After travelling home from China, I only spent three days in Canmore before getting back onto a plane bound for Whistler via Vancouver. Just enough time to unpack, do a lot of laundry and repack. It had been several years since I last attended Ski Nationals. I was looking forward to returning to Nationals and Whistler. Many memories over the years of training and racing at the Whistler Olympic Park. With Beijing so fresh in mind, it felt special to reflect upon my journey and how I began in Whistler by attending my first Games.

PC: Doug Stephen

There was so much going on back then that I was overwhelmed with it all. At times, I was literally walking down memory lane. After everything of the past few months, I wasn't sure if the body had any performance remaining. I was going for the fun of it. Since I returned to Canada, I hadn't done much, so I decided to train right up to the races and use the first race as a prep for the following races. My first race was a 10km Free, one of the most enjoyable races I'd done in a long time. Maybe simply because there wasn't any pressure. I was skiing very well, and before I realized it, I was closing in on the finish. The following morning was the race I was targeting, a 15km classic on a course with a lot of solid climbing each lap. I had another fantastic race. I am very proud of my performance that day.

I chose not to participate in the classic Sprint, I know it might be my favourite format, but I have little chance of qualifying in an Open field. Especially in such a strong Canadian and American field as was the case in Whistler. What started as a day off, or so I thought, turned into quite a new experience for me as I was asked to guide one of the younger visually impaired skiers. I was nervous doing it, but it all worked out, and in the final, we finished third. Later that day, I was fortunate enough to witness something quite special. As a young (but long-time training partner of mine), 20-year-old Xavier McKeever raced up into the Open category and won the Sprint against some of the continent's best WC and varsity skiers. To see him grow up on skis to that day, taking his first (I'm sure of many) Senior National title.

The sprint day was Wednesday, and my remaining race was on Sunday. I had a few tough days. I enjoyed the racing, but I didn't have that much motivation to continue training going into the off-season. A bit of a post Games lull if you will. After a day or two of this, it was Saturday and time to focus on race day preparation. The final race of Nationals and my season would be a 45km Free Mass Start. Six laps of a 7.5km loop. The weather was miserable, but we knew the forecast, and it was about staying smart and just race. After the jostling of the first lap, I settled in with a group and led for a bit on the climbing sections. They descended better than I did and opened a gap until we reached the lower rolling section, where my skis were rockets. With a couple of strides, I closed the gap, pulled alongside and then went by the group. We repeated the same for the third lap. In the fourth, a couple of the group started to fade, while others surged and then faded. In the fifth, where that continued as before, only myself, and one other were left. All along, we were going by a few stragglers from groups ahead. I felt I had managed my energy very well throughout the race and headed into the final lap. If it came down to a finish line sprint, I didn't think I had the speed to beat this other skier with me. My only chance was to grind out the climbs and try to open a gap on the rolling sections. As the lap went on, I slowly extended my lead. I was picking up a few late stragglers in this last lap. It was a long, gruelling race in less than ideal conditions, but I dare say it was fun. Being in the mix with others, having the patience to wait for sections where I was stronger, and the test of endurance.

I wrapped up my season by wringing out my soaking wet clothing, but with a smile on, or at least a friendly grimace. It had been a truly remarkable and memorable year. I could not think of a better way to finish it off than this week in Whistler. From Vancouver, I flew from one coast to the other. It was finally time to return to PEI for a visit, kicking off some post-season celebrations and beginning the off-season. I will be extending my off-season this year to a few months. I have surgery on one foot followed by the other foot this spring. I haven't taken much of a break since I started my career. I believe taking some time now is needed and will allow my body some time to recover and prepare for what's next. Earlier this year, I wasn't sure what was next for me; I relied on or figured it was another four years, but I wasn't sure. I can reassure you after this short period off; I'll be back to start my work towards March 7, 2026, for the next Paralympic Winter Games in Italy.

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