Skip to main content
paralympics 2010

Skier Lauren Woolstencroft, shown atop Mount Washington in B.C.

There was no homecoming parade, no sudden sponsorship deals, no one asking to auction off one of her hallowed ski poles for charity.

And above all, not a dime for any of Lauren Woolstencroft's five gold medals at the recent Paralympics, unlike the $20,000 reward Canadian athletes received for topping the podium once at the Olympics.

That's the way it is for a Paralympic athlete, even after a record performance at a Games many consider to have been the best ever at raising public awareness and appreciation for competitors' elite athletic skills.

The day after the Paralympics ended, Canada's new Queen of the Slopes tossed her medals into a Lululemon bag and headed down the Sea to Sky Highway with her boyfriend to their "tiny little condo" in North Vancouver.

"We talked about the Games, of course, but also a lot about what to have for dinner and stuff like that. It's back to normal, I guess," said Ms. Woolstencroft, a 28-year-old electrical engineer who goes back to her job with BC Hydro in May.

But Ms. Woolstencroft has no complaints. This fiercely competitive skier, born without limbs below the knee and no arm below her left elbow, has forged ahead from the day her parents first put her on a pair of miniature skis at the age of four. She is driven by the urge to excel.

"I don't do sport for the money. I do it because I love it," said Ms. Woolstencroft. "My goal in these Games was not to perform well to get sponsors. … I love sports. I love competing."

Yes, she admitted, receiving something like the Canadian Olympic Committee's bonus for each Olympic medal would be great - in her case it would amount to $100,000.

"No question that would be nice," she said. "It would acknowledge the fact that we are striving to be the best, not just to go out there. But I am not a complainer. We are still relatively new, and I think it will happen down the road."

Rob Needham of the Canadian Paralympic Committee said the organization doesn't have the resources to match the COC medal bonus plan. Available money is poured into training and coaching for the athletes "rather than financial rewards after the fact," Mr. Needham said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Woolstencroft is trying to adjust to sudden fame, her picture on the front page of newspapers across Canada. It's something she never envisioned.

"My goal coming in here was just to ski my best, and that's all I was focused on," she said. "I'm still processing the whole experience. Ever the engineer, I guess. In fact, I don't know if it's really set in yet. I think I'm still waking up. I'm trying to enjoy every moment, taking it day by day, because I know it will only take me so far."

She was stunned to win all five alpine races she entered in the standing category, particularly since she had performed poorly in earlier World Cup events. Perhaps even more surprising were her large margins of victory in each, leading some to consider her some kind of racing machine.

No way, said Ms. Woolstencroft, laughing.

"I lost a ton of races in the World Cup. It may have been my weakest year ever," she said. "I came back in February, and I worked and trained really hard. As a result, I was really confident coming into these Games. But I never expected to win every race. Everything worked in my favour. I feel extremely lucky."

Some have wondered why Canada's golden girl showed no Jon Montgomery-style jubilation after her winning performances. Mostly, she offered a big smile and short half-wave to the crowd, as if she'd just sunk a 10-foot birdie putt at an LPGA event.

When a reporter wondered if he had seen a tear on her cheek during one of the medal presentations, Ms. Woolstencroft set him straight. "I don't think you were looking at me the right way," she said. "I'm not a crier."

That doesn't mean there's no emotion. "I'm really excited, but I'm also tired at the end of every race," she said. "I never expect to win. I'm always nervous at the start. Those who think I don't show enough emotion don't know me, I guess. Everyone shows how they feel in different ways."

After 12 years of top-flight competitive skiing, Ms. Woolstencroft wonders whether it's time to call it quits, at the top of her game. She relishes her job with B.C. Hydro, and the hard work on the slopes takes its toll.

Whatever she decides, she could not be more enthused by the rising interest in the Paralympics. She remembers, as a young skier just starting out, trying to find out anything about the 1998 Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan.

"It was very, very difficult," she said. "Now, it gets better and better every year. People are finally starting to realize that the Paralympics are not just about showing up. It's serious competition and I love it."