Friday, March 14, 2014

Hockey game adventure

So there's been a slight change of plans, and by slight, I mean big. We're now doing the relay tomorrow and it will consist of Sebastien, Robbi and me (provided I'm feeling ok enough to race). I will mostly likely race it unless I'm really feeling worse tomorrow. 

Today I woke up feeling even worse than yesterday, so, other than our short ski this morning to check out tomorrow's relay course, I've been lying low all day, just chilling, mostly reading Facebook and Skyping with a couple of people. I hope this boring day will help me kick this cold once and for all so my last two races can be awesome!

Yesterday, we finally got to get off this mountain for a bit to take in some sledge hockey action. Canada played the U.S. in the semi, and unfortunately lost 3-0. But we still had a fun evening.
this was taken on the gondola ride down the mountain. We were all dressed in our Canada red to cheer on Team Canada. Apparently, these toques are a real hot commodity among the volunteers here. They have all been asking us to trade for one non-stop. Of course, because they want them so bad, we now really really like them and don't want to part with them. :)

Yes, these are palm trees which we saw plenty of on our way down to the Coastal Cluster. We ended up taking the really scenic route as we got lost, then got really lost, then got really really lost and had to use me as an interpreter to get us to our desitantion. These must illustrate the "Hot." component of the "Hot. Cool. Yours." slogan.

We found this Olympic ring as we finally got on the right route.

This is the McDonald's at the coastal village.We don't have one up here, so you can bet we got coffee and had dinner there. Don't worry, all I had was a wrap and a salad, nothing too unhealthy!

This, of course, is the hockey game. When we were leaving the game and all through the evening, people kept approaching us to take pictures with us or to trade our toques for volunteer gear. In fact, every time we would let someone take a photo with us, a line would form! It was unreal. As Mike said, this must be what it's like to be a rockstar!

And a photo of the Paralympic Flame as we were leaving the Shaiba Arena. I actually got a whole bunch of them, but it started raining, and my camera lens must have gotten wet, because they all have raindrops on them. 

So that was our night last night. Disappointing but memorable. 

Now I better head to bed for a good rest before tomorrow's relay. Our start time is 10 a.m.!

Good night from Sochi!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sprint races and more

Yesterday I competed in the sprints in the middle of a snowstorm. Yes, apparently, "Laura" can actually look like winter. 

My category was very small as usual at these Games: only 7 girls competed. The kicker was that 6 would advance to the semis and one would be eliminated in qualification. I won't say much about the race other than that Andrea and I gave it all we had and skied the best race we could have skied, but, unfortunately, we ended up being that 7th team that got eliminated. We were pretty disappointed of course, but we did do our very best and that was all we could have done. We've both been sick with a head cold for pretty much the entire Games, so that didn't help either. I was actually feeling pretty rough this morning, and so am glad of a few days recovery time before my next and final race: the 5 km skate.

The 5 km skate tends to be my best race, so I am glad I can rest and get ready for it properly. Tomorrow there is a long biathlon race, which 2 of my teammates will compete in, and the day after that are team relays. Canada will field a team for the open relay. We also had the possibility of fielding one for the lower-percentage mixed relay, but the numbers don't work out well and, if we did field a team, either Brittany or I would have to ski two legs of the relay, which neither one of us is keen on doing the day before the 5 km race. So I think we will just watch our other team and be spectators for the day. So all this means that I have 3 days before my next race, which is on the last day of the Games.

Tonight we are planning to go down to the coast to take in the Canada-US semi-final hockey game. We are all pretty excited about it. Some of us are also hoping to check out the other venues and do some shopping while we're down there. It will be so nice just to get off the mountain for a bit and to see and do something different. We've basically been up here training and racing since the Opening Ceremonies. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good photos I can post on here. I know I've been kind of bad at posting photos, but I haven't really had time to take any. 

Well, that's all from me for now. Good afternoon from the Endurance Village once again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

15 km classic: toughing it out

Yesterday I competed in one of the toughest races of my life. It was a 15 km classic race, which in itself is fine, but add to that the fact that it was +15 degrees at the start and rising and the tracks were gettiing slower and slower with every lap and that I have a bit of a sinus cold, and you have a very tough slog of a race indeed. 

There were only 4 competitors in my race yesterday, a fact that in itself tells you something about the difficulty of this race. I was really hoping to somehow get third, but the other three women started out quite fast and passed me on the first lap of 5. I tried to stick with them, but I also knew that on a day like yesterday, pacing was very important, so it became my own race to ski and finish. I took a feed of diluted Powerade on the third lap, which turned out to be a mistake, because I think that was the reason I had a pretty bad asthma attack at the top of the final hill of the third lap. It was so bad, I had to completely stop for a bit before getting going again. I've had my asthma pretty well under control all season long, but these very warm, humid conditions coupled with the sugar in the Powerade were a recipe for disaster. 

So imagine having a bad asthma attack with over 6 km still to go in the race, and you will know how hard it was for me to come back from it and keep going. But keep going I did as soon as I could breathe again, with my only goal at that point being to finish the race. (By the way, I am not saying this to throw myself a pity party, I'm saying this to give you an idea of how freaking hard the race was.)

I took a feed of only water on the fourth lap, which was good, and slogged on as well as I could until the last lap. At the end of the fourth lap, with the roar of the crowd blowing wind into my sails, I rallied to finish as stong as I could. By that point, the snow was as slow as molasses and the skis were getting suctioned to it like nobody's business. I pushed on ahead, my only thought was "This is the last time up this hill, the last time double-poling hard on this flat, etc.". Andrea was encouraging me as much as she could also, telling me to listen to that crowd cheering and reminding me to think about technique and power. We finally got around the entire lap, and double-poled to the finish to the thunderous roar of the crowd. I have to say the crowd support here has been amazing. The stands are full every day and people are taking pictures of us and cheering us on even when we're just warming up! I have never seen anything like it! So a huge thank-you to the Sochi spectators! 

I must also say that our wax technicians outdid themselves yesterday. My skis had awesome grip on the uphills and were super fast on the downs. In fact, I kept running over Andrea on the downhills, so had to tell her to get out of the way a few times. Thanks so much for the awesome wax, guys!

To finish off the post, here is a photo of us finishing the race yesterday:

Photo credit: Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee

I would also like to add that I am glad I did this race even though it was so hard and, although I was 4th out of 4, it is still a 4th place finish at the Paralympic Game, and I am happy with that.

Next up, the sprints tomorrow. That should be fun!

Good afternoon from Sochi!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First days of the Games

Today is Day 2 of competition here in Sochi. For Nordic skiing this means the long-distance sit-ski race. The men have already gone and the women will be starting very shortly.

For me today is a training day and prep for tomorrow's VI/Standing long-distance classic race. I'm about to head out for a ski. 

The last couple of days have been very busy and exciting. Two days ago we attended the Opening Ceremonies, which were nothing short of amazing. From the full stands at Fisht Stadium to the amazing performances and the giant icebreaker sailing through the stadium, it was quite a spectacle. Granted, the march in fell far short of the excitement of Vanouver for us, (considering we're no longer the home crowd), but the rest of the ceremonies was unbelievable. I'm really glad I went even though I had a race the next day. 

Yesterday was my very first race of the Sochi 2014 Paralympics. It was a 6 km biathlon sprint. It went as first races usually do - with a few hiccups along the way. We had a bit of a lane mix-up in the range on my first shooting round with the marshal being unclear which lane I was supposed to use. That threw my focus a bit and got me flustered so I missed two shots and had to do two penalty loops. On the second round I shot clean, but since I wasn't aware I had qualified for biathlon at all for these Games untill just a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty slow at shooting. On the last lap, for some reason, my legs started to feel really heavy - as if they were full of lead. I felt like I could barely move. It might have been because I had stood around quite a bit the night before at the Ceremonies or because of jet lag/altitude. There's no way to really know, but the fact was that I was dying a slow and painful death around that last lap. Because my legs were so heavy I got bogged down in the deep sugary snow on the last downhill and went down. I got up really quickly only to realize that my Leki pole had unclipped itself and flown off somewhere. I got a little confused and looked around for it for a second or two. Then Andrea called over to me and gave me her pole. Our head coach Robin popped out of nowhere suddenly and gave Andrea a spare pole. I wasn't able to put Andrea's pole grip on as it was a complicated kind, so there we were finishing the race with two different poles each and mine not even around my wrist. But we made it without broken equipment or injuries, though it was disappointing to come in last again. I may have been able to challenge for 6th place if I hadn't fallen. Someone later found my pole and brought it to me. 

But tomorrow is a new day, and we race a 15 km classic race. We are going 5 times around a 3 km loop. We are the last category out again so the conditions will be pretty tricky once again. I really hope I can keep my legs fresh enough to get down that hill without falling 5 times tomorrow. The key will definitely be pacing and keep good technique throughout. 

Andrea and I practised the course today a few times and my classic technique felt awesome. I feel pretty confident about tomorrow's race. But I have to go to bed now if I want to feel fresh tomorrow. 

So good night from Sochi once again.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Some photos from Sochi

We've now been here in Sochi for a few days, settling in to the Endurance Village, getting used to the courses and getting over jetlag. Most of us are still waking up at 4, but we hope this will stop soon. 

Yesterday was the Team Canada Welcome Ceremony at the Mountain Village. It's a pretty long trek out there, but it was a fun trip. We got to see the other village, meet some of our teammates from other sports, hear a Siberian choir, meet some local children and volunteers and, most importanly, see our flag raised in Sochi! Here are a few photos from the event:
Robbi, Brittany and I all decked out in our Canada gear for the Welcome Ceremony.

Louis introducing a new style

At the Ceremony

The Paralympic mascots: Snowflake and Ray of Light

Today was a gorgeous day at "Laura." We enjoyed dazzling sunshine and hard-packed snow conditions this morning. It actually froze overnight and the conditions were perfect! We took the opportunity to snap some photos. My philosophy is always to bring my camera if it's sunny out because you never know if there will be another sunny day! It really worked for me last year (see blog header photo).

Brittany, Andrea and I out on the course

The back of the Paralympic symbol from the top of the course

Andrea and I with the stadium in the background

So today we did some training with a few short sprints and I did some shooting. All of the biathlon rifles are new this year, and they seem to be so much better than the old ones. They are a lot more consistent in the way they sound. I am looking forward to the biathlon race in 2 days' time.

Tomorrow are the Opening Ceremonies, which will definitely be exciting, and my first race is the day after that. The Games are finally about to begin! 

That's all from me for now. Good night from the Endurance Village.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

First couple of days in Sochi

We arrived in Sochi yesterday morning super tired, hungry and sleep deprived. I managed to stay up all of yesterday before finally crashing just before 9 p.m. In the time between our arrival and going to bed, we managed to try on all of our CPC clothing, go for a short ski, have a team meeting to recieve yet more clothing and do a few other logistical things. 

The accommodations here are pretty spectacular! Apparently, the "Endurance Village" is destined to become a 5-star resort after the Games are over. I will post some photos later when I have time to take some. Here's one of our room upon arrival though:

This is all the stuff that was waiting for us in our room. Pretty nice, eh?\

Today was another busy day. Andrea and I skied twice. This morning was pretty good, and I was actually able to ski wearing a warm-up jacket and not boil. The courses seem to be exactly the same as last year, so I definitely feel better prepared because I have seen them before. It had rained all of last night, so the snow was pretty well compacted in the morning. By the time we skied our third lap though, it was pretty soft and mushy especially on the uphills. When we tried classic this afternoon, it was so soft and wet, we were falling though it in the tracks. I wore a t-shirt to ski and was still sweating. It is crazy warm here. I really hope it cools off some before the races!

Well, tomorrow is going to be a very busy day with skiing, a team orientation, welcome ceremony, etc. so I had better head to bed to try to fight jetlag some more. 

Good night from Sochi!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Off to Sochi 2014!!

Caroline and I are sitting here at the Maple Leaf Lounge in the Frankfurt Airport waiting for the rest of our teammates to arrive. Our next flight is not for another 8 hours and it is to Istanbul from where we will be heading to Sochi tonight. 

All this can only mean one thing: I am going to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games! The moment is finally here!

The team was named on February 11. In the last two weeks I have had more media interviews than I have ever had in my life! It's been truly awesome to see all of this interest in the Paralympics this year. 

I know this post is somewhat disjointed, but given the fact that it is currently 4 a.m. in Ottawa and I didn't really get any sleep on the flight here and the fact that, since my last post was in the summer, I am not quite sure where to start, I hope you will forgive me.

So we will be getting to Sochi early tomorrow morning and heading to the Welcome Centre to sort out accrediations and other formalities. By that time we will have been in transit for over 24 hours and will probably be completely incoherent. Then we'll be off to our own accommodations up on the mountain near the "Laura" biathlon and cross-country centre and will be able to get some rest. 

I've been meaning to write a post about my seasons so far, but it hasn't really worked out what with all the interviews and last minute preparations. I will say that I have had a good ski season with some personal best results but also have had some very difficult times as a very close and dear member of my family passed away last December. My sister-in-law and best friend Tanya Martin lost her battle with cancer on December 4, 2013, and the world lost a most amazing and caring person. We are all still grieving her loss, but skiing has helped me cope by providing a focus and an outlet. 

This is a picture of Tanya, Cliff and I at our wedding. She was my Maid of Honour, and she was the best Maid of Honour a bride could have had. 

So here I am on my way to the Games with Tanya watching over me and cheering me on from above and with family and friends back home poised to watch and cheer from Canada. 

Good morning from Frankfurt and watch for my next update from Sochi in the coming days.