Canadians found yet another reason to wave their red and white flags while belting out the national anthem on city streets. Up in Whistler Colette Bourgonje competed in the Women’s 10 kilometre Cross Country Sit Skiing race. Arriving as a hopeful medalist, she was able to leave with a triumphant smile upon her face and a silver medal around her neck.
The hype leading up to her performance was exceptional and her supporters anticipated nothing but a dominant finish. Bourgonje was able to start the race strong with a lead. Her time checks around the course placed supporters in the stands on the edge of their seats. At moments, the athlete came close with trailing competitors. Unfortunately at some point, Colette lost her lead and fell behind the first placed skier. From there, Liudmila Vauchok of Russia remained on top with as much as a forty second lead on Colette during times. However, like the true athlete she is, Bourgonje managed to continue determined in the race. She didn’t allow the change of placing to affect her spirit.
Colette finished with a silver placing. “I felt strong today and that the skis were awesome,” said Bourgonje. However, such a performance couldn’t have been accomplished without the support of her family, friends and fans that filled the spectator zone. The sidelines of the race course were lined with enthusiasts who showed extra support through their home made signs, cowbells and Canadian flags. Friends from which Colette grew up with in her small Saskatchewan town cheered proudly for her while holding by far the largest signs at the race. All rose when Bourgonje came speeding past on her final stride towards the finish line. The bleachers shook furiously as fans stomped on the metal benches to bring Colette down the home stretch. And appreciated by Colette they were. “Thanks so much to the team of Canadians we have around the course. They were great support. “You know the conditions were really good,” explained the silver medalist. “The course was pulled out from the guys. It’s better than the weather right now,” she explained while referring to the snowfall that followed the race almost immediately. “I’m glad it wasn’t snowing during the race because that adds another dimension.”
The level of complexity for sit skiing is intense. The race starts with each athlete departing in 30 second-intervals. Women and Men in the sitting class have a lower limb disability. In order for them to compete, the skiers use a type of equipment known as a sled or a sledge in which they sit. Beneath that, a pair of skis are attached with a standard cross country binding. With their arms and poles, athletes are able to propel themselves along the track. Colette describes her success as deriving from dedication and practice. “You know it’s taken me a lot of years to get good. It takes a lot of work to be a good sit skier but skiing is so much fun… it’s a great sport.” Just like the hills you compete on in cross country, this athlete recalls a point in the race where hope became weary. “I fell on a downhill and I didn’t think I could pull it back again.” Every athlete knows the importance of remaining strong no matter where you are in the race. It is vital to put any set backs out of your mind and concentrate on the fact you’re still in the race as Colette did after her tumble. Her confidence and positive thinking prevailed when she finished with a silver placing. “I’m very happy with the result today… It’s silver, I’m pleased.”
She brings her positive athletic attitude to her everyday life as well. “I couldn’t have written my life. My life has been just quite a journey. I think age is nothing, attitude is everything. My friend gave me that card and I believe in that. I think if you train hard, we have Olympians at 44 so 48 for a Paralympian is nothing. The training and time you put into the sport is what you get out of it.” Her first Winter Paralympic debut took place in lbertville 1992. Vancouver 2010 has become Colette’s sixth Winter Games. Including her most recent victory in Vancouver, Bourgonje has a cross-country skiing medal count of eight. Such success can only come from an endearment as strong as hers. “I love cross-country skiing, it’s my passion. I totally enjoy it. I keep coming back because I always feel like you get a little bit better.” Along with her passion came extra fuel for her big win. “I’m just happy to be competing in Canada.” At 48, this athlete continues to deliver strong. “Well, I will compete internationally one more year as I transition into real life.”