It didn’t take long for Emily Suchy to get a hang of the Nordic sit ski. The 14-year-old managed to qualify for the B.C. Winter games in her first time trial earlier this month.
“To be honest, there isn’t much competition,” she said a little sheepishly.
Still, she did have to reach a certain qualifying time and she would not have been allowed to continue if officials didn’t think she was ready for competition, her coach Debbie Koerber said.
Suchy, a grade nine student at Revelstoke Secondary School, has Perthes disease – a degenerative hip disease that interrupts blood flow to the femur and reduces motion in the hip.
For Suchy, this makes it hard to walk long distances. She also can’t jump or do any other sport that produces heavy impact on the hip. A number of her friends are cross-country skiers but due to her condition, she was unable to join them.
Last winter, Suchy accompanied the Revelstoke Nordic team to the Canadian championships in Canmore, Alta. While there, she was introduced to the Canadian Para-Nordic ski team.
It was her first exposure to the sit ski.
There are three kinds of Para-Nordic skiers. Some are blind, and require a guide to lead them around the course. Others are missing one or both arms. Then there are those without legs, or with leg issues such Suchy’s. To partake in the sport, they use a sit-ski – basically a chair with skis on the bottom. The racer sits on it and uses their arms to propel them forward.
Last summer, Suchy would train with the rest of the Nordic team. She would bike with them (biking is one of the sports she can do) and would double-pole while roller skiing. In late-November she attended a para-Nordic camp in Canmore, where she was able to spend time with numerous para-athletes. “It was really inspirational,” she said.
The camp let Suchy and Koerber see what the program was about. They spent part of the camp talking to other athletes and Suchy got to spend time on the sit-ski figuring out what angles work for her hips. She received training advice and got to meet other para-Nordic skiers like eight-time Paralympian Colette Bourgonje. Bourgonje gave Suchy tips on body positioning and how to stay motivated. One of Suchy’s goals is to race against Bourgonje, “and do well.”
Despite her hip problems, Suchy is an active athlete. She is a member of the Revelstoke Aquaducks swim team and is also a cyclist, rock climber and white-water kayaker.
Suchy is the only para-Nordic athlete at the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club right now but Koerber is hoping more athletes with disabilities will come out. She said the club hopes to purchase two sit-skis that will be open to any club member to try out. She also said several skiers have expressed interest in acting as guides for blind skiers.
“I’m hoping there’s other para-Nordic athletes waiting to be discovered,” said Koerber.
The club has received $800 in funding from the Live It! Love It! Foundation and $1,080 from the Canadian Paralympic Equipment Fund so far.
Suchy trains on the Mt. Macpherson trails as well as off the snow. Sit-skiing is all about propelling yourself with your upper body so she is doing sit ups and push ups to strengthen her upper body. Building up strength is her biggest challenge so far, she said. Pushing herself uphill is another one, as is maintaining control on the downhills, as there’s no way to use the skis as break. Lots of times they practice on the relatively flat Roadway Ramble trail, said Koerber.
“We have every intention of getting Emily to utilize the full ski area when she’s up to it,” she added. “And when she can stop on the downhill.”
This winter Suchy will be focusing on getting ready for the B.C Winter Games but she does some loftier goals in mind.
“I think it would be really cool to be in the Olympics, but that’s a long way away,” she said.