How Yoda and sleep training helped prepare this local Paralympics for Beijing

Three Ottawa region athletes are in Beijing this week to compete in the 2022 Paralympics, and they opened up about their unique training techniques and lucky charms as they prepare to represent Team Canada.

The match kicks off Friday starting with men’s Alpine downhill skiing.

From sleep training to sticking to words of wisdom from Star Wars, these athletes share how it feels ahead of the Olympics.

Alexis Guimond, Alpine skier from Gatineau, Que.

For Alexis Guimond, words of wisdom from Star Wars have shaped her path to the Beijing Olympics.

“Yoda is a role model for me,” said 22-year-old Guimond. “She just put in what I aspire to. She is disciplined, respectable, she is graceful, she is controlled and calm.”

Guimond said he took Yoda’s words of wisdom to heart, even though he was a fictional character. He would even watch a few Star Wars clips before jumping off the slopes.

“Yoda’s quote is very close to my heart,” says Guimond. “It makes me excited to race.”

Alexis Guimond says words of wisdom from one of her favorite films helped her prepare for this year’s Beijing Paralympics. (L.Percival)

This is Guimond’s second time competing on the Paralympic stage. He took home a bronze medal in the giant slalom in PyeongChang, South Korea in 2018 — making him the first Canadian male standing skier to climb the Paralympic podium in 20 years, according to the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

At the last Paralympics, Guimond said he felt overwhelmed and “in a trance” most of the time.

“In this Match I will be able to refocus and be able to fully focus on my performance,” he said.

Guimond was diagnosed with complete paralysis of his right side at six months and partial paralysis of his left side at age 12.

He was 18 years old during PyeongChang, and quite small, and since then has about 20 to 30 pounds of muscle mass and has a lot more experience under his belt.

Guimond says there is a huge gap between his ski skills from then and now.

“I’m ready physically, mentally.”

Guimond said he wasn’t the one who brought lucky charms to the Games, but he took Baby Yoda with him to Beijing.

“Actually I always carry him everywhere on my phone. He is my background – him and Shrek,” she said.

Collinda Joseph, curler from Ottawa

Collinda Joseph of the western suburb of Stittsville said she was in “standard teen time” anticipating the 13-hour time difference between Ottawa and Beijing.

The 56-year-old first Paralympic runner has gone to bed at 1 a.m., and got out of bed at 11 a.m., to train her internal clock in time for the Olympics.

“It’s an interesting challenge to stay in bed,” he says with a laugh. Sleep training is tough, but moving team training to late at night has helped.

“We came out of the ice around 10:30, 11 [p.m.] …and it helped me,” said Joseph.

Collinda Joseph is seen at the 2021 Curling World Championships at the Beijing Ice Cube, rehearsing for the first time at this year’s Paralympics. (WCF/Alina Pavlyuchik)

Joseph first tried rolling a wheelchair at the RA Center in Ottawa 17 years ago. He says it took a while before he curled up regularly – then the rest is history.

“The brain part of the game really got me hooked. And I wasn’t expecting that at all,” he said. “There’s still a lot to learn.”

Joseph says for the past few years, wheelchair curling has struggled and the pandemic has prevented curling aspirants from trying it out.

“I think there’s been a decline in the number of people participating in this sport. So we hope the Paralympics will … spark a wave of other people who are interested.”

Brian Rowland, alpine skier from Merrickville, Ontario.

Brian Rowland was at his first Paralympic Games in Beijing — a dream come true, he said, thanks in part to his insatiable need for speed.

“I need adrenaline in my life. I need excitement,” said Rowland. “I need speed.”

Sitting on his single ski gear, Rowland says he’ll occasionally go downhill at 100 kilometers per hour — and sometimes even fall.

“I like to scare myself,” he said. “I would start flipping, dropping down hills, tomahawks, my outriggers flying, sometimes my skis slipping off, maybe some things breaking, bouncing, hitting the head, shoulders, whatever.

“It’s pretty hard but I managed to bounce back most of the time.”

Brian Rowland in action. ‘Nobody can stop it,’ said Rowland’s first ski coach, Andy Van Grunsven. (L.Percival)

His first coach said nothing could stop Rowland.

“If he fell, he would crash and burn and get back up and ski like it didn’t happen…. He’s a hard worker,” says Andy Van Grunsven, who first taught Rowland how to sit skis at the Calabogie Peaks ski resort.

After a spinal injury in 2015 from a dirt bike accident, the once avid snowboarder turned around to sit down skiing. Rowland says he started setting small goals at a time, and it didn’t take long before he started with Team Ontario, then on to the national team.

“I just completely devoted my life to ski racing,” said Rowland, who is now 35 years old.

Rowland says although she enjoys her need for speed in the snow, she still loves a good night of puzzles at home.

Jackson Wintringham

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