Still, Woolstencroft always knew she could not live on a skiing paycheque alone, although she’s in a better financial position now than earlier in her career. She has two sponsors for 2010 — Bombardier and the Vancouver law firm of Singleton Urquhart, to go with her funding from Sport Canada. But before you reach that level, you’d better hope you have supportive parents. Even now, she says, “You’re not buying a house in West Van; you’re renting a basement suite.”
So she chose to become an engineer, “because I liked that it is very applied,” she says. “I wanted the going-away-to-university experience, and when I was trying to decide where to go, I was thinking of going east. I found that most engineering schools are very rigid, whereas UVic offered a more flexible program. They wouldn’t kick me out if I took time off for training and competing.”
So UVic it was. She spread her degree over six years, taking one winter off so she could compete in the Salt Lake games. After she graduated, she landed the job with BC Hydro, mostly working on power distribution infrastructure for Olympic venues.
On a summer Saturday, though, Woolstencroft has a date with a bike. Just before she leaves, I ask her what she thinks about the women ski jumpers. Right now, male ski jumpers compete in the Olympics. Female ski jumpers cannot. The International Olympic Committee cites ‘technical issues,” and even though the BC Supreme Court ruled it discriminatory, it lacks the jurisdiction to do anything about it.
Woolstencroft has seen her own sport labour to establish credibility. During the Nagano Paralympics in 1998, she says, “I couldn’t even find the alpine results, never mind live coverage.” But when it comes to the women ski jumpers, she says, “I can see both sides.”
“From what I understand, the event doesn’t meet the criteria to be included.”
You can’t see both sides!
“I do,” she insists. “I also understand how difficult it must be to be unable to compete.”
You get the sense there are few things about which Woolstencroft does not see both sides. She is an engineer, after all; she chose a discipline where problems can be broken down into their component parts. She is very analytical, and this has helped make her one of the most technically skilled skiers out there.
Her coach lauds her ability to put aside troublesome nerves. “She is a very well-rounded person,” Labrie says. “She’s mature, she makes the right choices, she is able to control her emotions. Since I’ve known her, she’s been very good at performing on demand. When it counts she’s always solid, with the right focus and right intensity.”
That ability to focus helps when disasters happen, like when she fell before the Salt Lake Paralympics and twisted her knee. It will also help her maintain her composure through the inevitable media circus of 2010. The Paralympics receive a lot more attention than they once did and should certainly see more in Vancouver, as the organizing committee promotes the Olympics and Paralympics concurrently, placing both logos on all of its marketing material.
But Woolstencroft isn’t terribly interested in logos or the press. Her concentration is on the training sessions in Chile and Europe, and most importantly, the Paralympics in Whistler in March. Her goals for the games are either modest (if you consider her past success) or large (if you consider the competition). “I’ll be unhappy if I’m not on the podium,” she says.
Don’t believe this for a split second. She may be an engineer, and her field may be rooted in codes and rules and equations, and she may be a technical skier who looks at a course and sees not a sheer face of a mountain, but a series of curves and angles that need to be negotiated. But she is also an athlete who believes in the power of the stars, and she can bomb down a hill like a woman possessed and beat the ski pants off any of her competitors. Make no mistake: Lauren Woolstencroft wants gold.
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