She’s out of the gate and ripping down the icy course with so much speed that my hands are breaking out in a nervous sweat despite the – 5 degree temperature.
As I squint to keep up with her numbered racing bib and colored jersey, I’m terrified.
I can’t imagine what the race looks like from her view as she squats low and slices through tight corners. And she does so blindly while jockeying for a position among the three other Ski Cross racers fighting to the finish.
But the thing is, I know something they don’t. Georgia Simmerling is going to beat them. And she does, winning the first of what will be several heats before it’s down to the final round. I’m not psychic.
No, but I’ve met Georgia and know what it’s taken for her to be here. As a former Canadian Alpine Ski Team member, and Olympian in the 2010 Vancouver Games, she competed with the greatest alpine skiers in the world. She didn’t medal but she kept competing before switching to a popular freestyle ski event called Cross Ski.
So here she is, in a sport that demands you risk it all to finish in the top two places in your heat. From there, you advance to the quarters, semis and then final round. This roller derby on skis is one part alpine skiing, one part freestyle skiing, and one part CRAZY! Competitors race to the finish line down a course filled with turns, bumps, and insanely big jumps.
Any one of these components would scare a normal, level-headed, après-ski worshipper like me to retreat to the safety of a hot tub to embrace a nerve-settling glass of Chablis.
This is what I thought about when Georgia advanced to the next round: I wonder if there’s a hot tub here, and boy am grateful for my legs.
After competing in Vancouver, Georgia started to climb the competitive ladder in Ski Cross until an accident sidelined her with a broken neck and broken back in 2012. Again, any normal able-bodied human would probably concede one Olympics was enough. Time to consider what’s next.
But remember? Georgia isn’t normal.
Still, who could never imagine what Georgia did next? She embarked on ambitious bicycle-training rehab sessions to strengthen her body, mind and soul. A new passion unfolded and Georgia persuaded the Summer Olympic cycling coach to indulge her request to tryout for the team.
And so, as the story goes, Georgia surprised the hell out of everyone and together with her team, she landed a bronze medal for velodrome cycling in Rio 2016. Her team topped their best rides going into the Olympics and in Georgia’s words:
“The magic was in the fact that we accomplished something that we had not come close to reaching all season. We train so incredibly hard every single day to ride as fast as we possibly can, to find the fastest order in the line, the perfect work distribution. To put it all together on that particular ride in front of our families, and the entire world, was magical. I cannot describe the feeling of crossing the finish line with my teammates.”
While I’ll never know what it’s like to compete like an Olympian, I’m in good company with the other 7.6 billion people on the planet. I realize athletes like Georgia are special.
They come from another world and possess lion hearts with a singular focus – to be the best at what they do. Knowing this is tremendously exciting to me, and I revel in the knowledge that Georgia has already qualified to compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This is the last Canadian World Cup competition at Nakiska, Kananaskis, a small village about an hour from Calgary.
Back on the hill, Georgia is racing in the next heat. After a rough wobble just out of the gate, the announcer screams out at the only Canadian. She’s regained her position and is back in second place but my hands are cold this time. Something feels off.
The skiers are dangerously close to getting tangled, and Georgia wobbles again. It looks bad but she seems to twist out from under the skis that seem to have pinned hers down.
The rest of the race is a blur. Suddenly, she’s sliding as if in slow motion and I watch in horror as she skids off the elevated track. But she’ll get up, I say to myself. Nothing can keep her down. But a hush comes over the crowd, and then silence. Time stops as the medics come onto the scene. Georgia is loaded onto a board and disappears into their tent. I feel sick.
Her legs are both seriously broken and she undergoes emergency surgery. Many pins and metal plates later, she is off the list. The Olympics will happen without her. Tears flow as I imagine her splintered heart. I nod when I see Georgia’s parents. Her mother feigns strength and now my heart tears in half.
I hug them and drop my eyes. No words, just pain hangs in the cold air. Now, there is only healing and heartache, and heartache and healing. I rub my frozen hands over my legs again, only this time I wish I could give Georgia mine.
But a new chapter will begin and Georgia will tell it. I will still cheer my Canadian wonder woman – #GoGeorgiaGo – from this side of the Ocean.
You can follow Georgia’s series here at WomanScape.com every second Monday of the month. Send Georgia a message and visit her website too at: http://www.georgiasimmerling.ca