Denied 25 years ago, Revelstoke’s first pro Nordic ski coach Andrei Pascu finally made his move from to Canada from Romania
The year was 1986 and Andrei Pascu, the coach of the Romanian women’s Nordic ski team, was getting ready for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
One day, while having drinks with his colleagues, he commented on how great it would be to go to Canada. A week later, the Communist Party official in charge of the team summoned him to his office. Pascu was informed his coaching services were no longer needed and he was sent back to coaching his local club team. His dreams of Canada were dashed.
“I’m sure I would have never returned to Romania if I would have come here,” he said.
A decade later, after the fall of the brutal Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauçescu, Pascu found out one of his fellow coaches was a petty officer in the Romanian army and had ratted him out.
Twenty-five years later Pascu, 55, is legally in Canada as the first professional coach of the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Team.
As a youth growing up in Romania, Pascu’s father always spoke of Canada. His father was a winter sports fanatic who coached skiing, speed skating and hockey. He had never been to Canada but he knew it was a northern country with long winters.
“All the time he was telling me about Canada, especially about Canadian hockey,” Pascu said.
Pascu grew up in communist Romania, which was under the Ceausescu’s brutal dictatorship. At first, he said, it wasn’t too bad, and Romania was open to western culture. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Woodstock – they were all familiar to him.
Then, in the mid-70s, things got worse as a crackdown on freedoms began. Travel restrictions were imposed and the communist party spread its ideology into all aspects of Romanian life. “It was really awful,” he said. “We weren’t free even in our houses.”
The one area of life that did benefit from communist rule was sports as the government was intent on showing it’s strength through athletic achievement.
Growing up, Pascu was an alpine skier. He raced competitively until he was 20, when a serious injury forced him to give up the sport. Instead, he took up cross-country skiing and fell in love with the freedom of travelling through the forests, alone in nature, he said.
“Maybe it was God’s will.”
While studying physical education at Babes-Bolyai University, in Cluj, Romania, he took part in inter-university races but never posted any top results. After university he started coaching Nordic skiing.
“I had the chance, I say, or the inspiration, to find excellent athletes, to select them for cross-country skiing, to train them and with my colleagues from the club, we made the county to be the best in Romania,” he said.
Pascu earned his level three coaching certification in Romania. His club team became one of the best in Romania during the 1980s and in 1985 he was appointed the head coach of the Romanian women’s team; six out of eight members were from his club.
That’s when he ran afoul of the Communist Party. He was blacklisted by the party and after a few more years coaching at the club level, he became a prison warden so he could make more money to support his wife Dana and five children. He did that for 14 years, all the while helping out with coaching on weekends.
Over the past couple of years, with his children grown up, he looked at making a return to coaching. Last winter he worked as ski instructor for Swiss Mountain Sports. This year, he applied for jobs around Europe but with no luck there, he turned his search to Canada. He landed offers in North Bay and Revelstoke and chose to come here. Some friends said he was insane and others were excited for him.
Pascu has only been on the job for a week now and he said he’s been easing his way in, getting to know the athletes and other coaches. He’s conscious of the impact a change of coaches can have on an athlete so he said he’s working his way in slowly to ensure a smooth transition.
“People are very committed, very deeply involved,” he said. “What I saw and I love is the willingness to be the best, to show that you can do it even if you’re a small community.”
He said a few things about his coaching style. One is to encourage his athletes to do their best. He said he would never tell a skier they are not good enough. He also said he loves to win.
“I accept that sometimes you lose but I don’t like to be runner-up.”
I asked him what his goals were for the season. He said it was to meet the club’s goals, though he hadn’t discussed that yet. “I told them before I came here that I will give the best I can give, and a little bit more,” he said.
“My own goal, if I stay here, the most beautiful feeling a coach can have is to have an Olympian. I know that feeling and it’s a wonderful feeling for a coach.”