Canada’s Brydon works to make skiing mean more

It was after the Salt Lake City Games eight years ago when Emily

Brydon started questioning the meaning of it all.

What was the point of hurtling herself down the mountain at 90

mph (150 kph)? Couldn’t she be doing something more socially

conscious with her life? Was it worth dealing with all the pressure

top-ranked skiers face?

“I didn’t really love skiing then and I swore to myself I

always wanted to love the sport,” Brydon said in a recent

interview. “I felt really guilty for the lifestyle that I had and

the opportunities that I had.”

Now nearly 30, Brydon enters these games as one of only a

handful of skiers considered capable of upsetting Lindsey Vonn in

the Olympic downhill on Wednesday.

But she came very close to retiring back in 2002 – before

rearranging her priorities, getting involved more with the

charitable side of the sport, and starting her own not-for-profit

foundation.

And yes, for a skier from the small town of Fernie, British

Columbia, the chance to race at the Vancouver Olympics in her home

province also helped inspire Brydon to continue.

In the past few seasons she’s become a regular podium finisher,

and posted the only World Cup victory of her career in St. Moritz,

Switzerland, two years ago.

Plus, Brydon and the rest of the Canadians have had exclusive

access to the Whistler downhill course in recent years and Vonn’s

status is in question due to a bruised right shin.

“If everything goes well for her, then she has the potential to

be in contention and going for the podium,” Canada women’s head

coach Patrick Riml said. “She’s very focused and she’s ready to

rock.”

Brydon began her career as a highly promising junior skier,

winning the silver medal in slalom at the junior worlds a decade

ago and posting top-10 finishes in her other three events.

But success at the elite World Cup level didn’t come so

easily.

“I took it too seriously,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure

on myself and I never really enjoyed it because I was never

reaching my expectations.”

And then there was the socially conscious side of the highly

introspective Brydon – who often reduces herself to tears when she

doesn’t satisfy herself.

“I just felt guilty for it,” she said. “There’s so much going

on in this world and so many people that don’t have what I have and

it’s kind of silly what I do sometimes – just go down the course as

fast as I can.

“Sometimes it’s hard to swallow that and really justify

that.”

But then Brydon realized that she can be a role model and create

hope for younger skiers and athletes.

“So I changed my mentality about why I did it,” she said. “It

wasn’t about me anymore. I didn’t ski race just for me.”

Brydon started getting involved in Right to Play – a Canadian

organization that uses sports to aid the development of children

and youth in underprivileged areas of the world.

Brydon also started her own organization – the Emily Brydon

Youth Foundation – in Fernie.

“It gives children in the valley opportunities to believe and

to dream and do what they want to do, whether it’s sports or

academics or the arts. There’s no boundaries,” she said, her eyes

glowing as she described the possibilities.

“We help kids who have potential and we help kids who have

never been on snow before. It’s all-encompassing,” she said.

“I’ve been able to change kids’ lives and that’s what sports is

all about, I think.”

Brydon started this season strongly with two podium finishes on

home snow in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December, then struggled to

break back into the top 10 until she finished ninth in St. Moritz

two weeks ago in the final race before the games.

Riml attributed the brief falloff to the devastating number of

injuries the Canadians have had to deal with this season.

Fellow downhillers Kelly Vanderbeek and Larisa Yurkiw both had

season-ending injuries before Christmas, leaving Brydon and Britt

Janyk as the only threats in the speed events. The men’s team lost

downhill world champion John Kucera, Jean-Philippe Roy and Patrick

Bourque.

“All of a sudden we were two out of four and we were like,

‘Jeez, we don’t want to get hurt,”’ Riml explained. “That was a

little bit of our problem in January. It was a little bit just

trying to make sure that we make it to Whistler for the

Olympics.”

Now that Brydon is here, she wants to take advantage of the

opportunity – because this time she really is going to retire.

“I try not to talk about it that much because I just want to

focus on this year and enjoying it and making the best of it,” she

said. “Instead of looking into the future I’m trying to live in

the now. But it’s been pretty clear in my mind that this is a great

way to end this chapter of my life.

“This year there has been no stone left unturned, because

there’s not going to be a next year.”