Canada’s Kelly VanderBeek announced her retirement Saturday, ending a 12-year career in downhill and super-G skiing.
The 29-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., retires as the most decorated female member of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team and the first Canadian woman to climb onto the podium at the Lake Louise World Cup.
VanderBeek, who resides in Canmore, Alta., with her husband and five-time Olympic kayaker David Ford, returned Saturday to where he career started — Chicopee ski hill, near Kitchener — to announce her retirement.
“This is where the Olympic dream started for me, so it seems only fitting that I’m here to make this announcement,” said VanderBeek. “As a ski racer I was prepared for injury but the extent of the knee injury I suffered in 2009 was bigger than I expected. I’ve always believed I would get back and I’m proud to say I got back.
“Unfortunately, I’ve decided that Sochi 2014 isn’t going to be a possibility because the knee isn’t quite there. But at the same time, I think of the experiences that I’ve had over the past three years and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
VanderBeek suffered a devastating knee injury during a training run at a World Cup event in Val d’Isere, France, in December 2009. Just months before she was due to compete at the Vancouver Olympics, she tore the posterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her left knee — in addition to suffering a tibial plateau fracture, an IT band dislodged with bone and extensive cartilage loss under her patella.
Instead of competing in Vancouver, VanderBeek joined the broadcast booth and excelled in a new role.
“Obviously, the hardest thing was missing Vancouver — having worked so hard to prepare to go out there and have a shot at a medal,” she said. “I worked for TV and it went really well. They say one door closes, another window opens ...”
VanderBeek has spent the past three years working towards a comeback. She competed in four World Cup races in January and February, 2012, and spent the summer working on and off the hill to give herself the best chance of returning not just to regular competition — but to her best form.
“I’ve got to the point where I have a healthy leg and I’m extremely grateful for that,” VanderBeek said. “But I’m not just looking for a knee that can get me down the mountain — I need a knee that can get me down the mountain as fast as the best in the world.
“Time just isn’t on my side. For me, having the chance to be in Sochi just to participate isn’t enough. I want to shoot for the fences; I want to win.”
VanderBeek claimed three top-three World Cup results and a fourth-place finish in super-G at the 2006 Olympics, where she was famously just 0.03 seconds off the podium. She also had a successful junior career, finishing third in super-G at the 2002 and 2003 FIS Junior World Ski Championships.
In recent years she’s forged a career as a broadcaster, having worked as a commentator and reporter for CTV, CBC and Sportsnet. She hopes to continue working in broadcasting, in addition to developing her photography business — Beginnings by Kelly.
“I have sort of a dream and I’m going to swing for the fences,” VanderBeek said. “My husband and I plan to continue enjoying the outdoor activities Canmore has to offer while I continue to pursue further work as a broadcaster and host.”
VanderBeek has also spent the past three years training alongside and watching the development of a group of young skiers that includes Erin Mielzynski — the first Canadian to win a slalom World Cup since 1971 — and Marie-Michele Gagnon, a talented all-round skier who claimed her first World Cup podium last season.
“I’ve worked with them and watched them grow. That’s one of the things that has kept me going as long as I have — I wanted to train with them and watch them excel,” VanderBeek said. “I’m not leaving as the only podium athlete. These girls are so young — the future is very bright.”