Canada's Brydon works to make skiing mean more

BY foxsports • February 13, 2010

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.''

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