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Two blown ACLs can’t slow down alpine skier Mollie Jepsen
It’s not the hand that troubles West Vancouver’s newest Paralympian Mollie Jepsen when she’s skiing downhill at ridiculous speeds using only one pole, it’s those darned knees.
At the age of 18 Jepsen is on her way to South Korea for her first crack at the Paralympics, riding high after a huge weekend back in February that saw her hit the podium in three straight World Cup races, clinching the Crystal Globe overall season title for super G in the process.
The results are great, but what is most remarkable is what she has gone through already to get to this point in her young ski racing career. For Jepsen, who graduated from West Vancouver Secondary last June, the past four years have been marked most prominently by three massive injuries and the time spent recovering from them.
“I tore my first ACL when I was 13,” she says matter-of-factly. That was her right anterior cruciate ligament, torn during a scary training crash in Whistler caused by the young racer pushing her limits just a little too far, and it cost her an entire season of racing. She rehabbed hard, and made it back on snow. Her return lasted just one season.
When I was 15, I tore my second ACL.” That was the left knee, torn during a fluke accident while at a preseason training camp in Austria. “That was quite devastating after going through that kind of injury the first time and knowing how brutal and painful the rehab and surgery process might be. But I honestly just love skiing so much that I was just like, ‘OK, here we go again. I know what I’m doing, let’s get it done.”
She fought through it all to make it back on snow and then … broke her ankle. That was last February, at another training session in Whistler. For most mortals that would have been enough to hang up the skis for good, or at least take a long break from the sport. Not Jepsen though – she was back on skis in August and on her way to posting the breakout season she knew she had in her during all those years lost to injury. The physical rehab was gruelling enough – what was even tougher, though, was finding the mental strength to push her limits each time she got back on snow and came face-to-face with a steeply pitched slope.
“It’s a super, super rough mental game,” she says. “It takes a while to be able to trust yourself and not be scared all the time. But I have a super great support staff of physios, sport psychologists, coaches – they make everything possible. It’s definitely tough, and something I think every elite athlete has to go through. How you come out of it kind of shows what kind of athlete you are.”
This year Jepsen finally got to show what kind of an athlete she is, and it couldn’t have gone much better. The Paralympics start March 9 in South Korea, and the teenager is hoping to come away with at least one medal. Her last five years may have been rough, but she’s been preparing for this moment all her life.
Jepsen was born missing a few fingers on her left hand, preventing her from holding a ski pole in that hand, but that never slowed her down as she followed her family to the slopes on countless Whistler weekends, starting when she was just two years old. Following the 2010 Olympics she jumped into ski racing with the Whistler Mountain Ski Club, always competing against able-bodied athletes.
“I’ve worked my whole life to make it as if I had two poles,” she says. “I was coming from a gymnastics background, so the biggest part in only having one pole is are you able to balance well enough to ski turns on both legs? Many who don’t have one pole struggle to maintain balance.”
Working with one pole makes it tougher to push through the gates in slalom races, so Jepsen has shifted her focus to the speed events.
“I like to go as fast as I can,” she says, adding that her multiple injuries and rehabs have made her a more focused, precise racer. “I focused all of my energy on just becoming the strongest technical and tactical skier I could, and it’s now started to really pay off this season. I’ve been able to put down some really clean, fast runs. Finally.”
With two strong legs underneath her, Jepsen can’t wait to show the world what she can do at the Paralympics.
“The main goal, being my first Paralympics, is just to leave it all on the hill for each event each day, just ski as fast as I can and come off the hill knowing I did my best,” she says. “It’s a super awesome honour to be able to head over there knowing I’m representing Canada.”Andy Prest / North Shore News March 6, 2018
WMSC FIS athletes took part in last week’s BC Cup series at Whistler-Blackcomb and Grouse Mountain. Over 80 athletes competed, mostly from BC and Alberta but some coming from as far as Mammoth in California, and organizers responded effectively to the changing weather patterns and managed to get all 6 races off despite some of Mother Nature’s finest!
The first schedule change was on Day #1 when it was decided at the Team Captains’ meeting (previous night) to run both Super-G races initially planned to span over 2 days. Conditions were a bit soft to start but racers soon got to the rock hard base underneath and the track remained fast through most sections. Starting from the top of Raven, the day started off with a celebrity forerunner by the name of Rob Boyd setting the pace, and the race continued to be exciting throughout the day.
In the Ladies race #1, Sunshine Ski Club’s Kiara Alexander ripped down the course and beat the 2nd place finisher by nearly a half second. Whistler’s Gigi Kranjc placed an impressive 7th, and teammate Julia Ross finished 12th, just behind WMSC alumni Gabrielle Smith who now skis out of Mammoth (big sis of Jacquie in U14). In the 2nd race, Kiara’s sister Ashleigh took top spot on the podium, and Julia Ross claimed her first top 10 of the series, finishing 9th
On the Men’s side, first race, Tyler Werry set the pace with a time of 1:13:25, and Whistler’s Jack Forsyth turned in his first top-10 of the series, placing 8th ahead of teammates Kosta Petovic (17th) and Dawson Yates (21st). 2nd run saw Forsyth turn in an 11th place finish and Yates move up to 18th.
FIS coach Conrad Pridy felt the series was a big success for his athletes. “The team, as a whole, all managed some form of personal best performance, and looked a lot more comfortable racing than earlier in the year. I think having a solid 4-week training block before our home series was a very effective way to prepare, but more noticeable than the technical changes our athletes made was their ability to execute when it really mattered. They’re starting to believe in themselves and “let go” more under pressure.” “The whole FIS points thing can become a huge distraction, when what really matters is beating people. It was nice to hear reports from the kids after their runs that focused on how they skied and how many spots they moved up, rather than what they thought their points would be. Hopefully we’re getting back to what racing really is!”
The first GS race, scheduled to run on the Thursday, was moved up ahead of the forecasted snow and took place on Wednesday, starting just above the Club 21 pitch. Conditions were probably the most challenging of the 3 race days at Whistler, but that’s ‘normal’ for any WMSC athlete, so results were still pretty solid (thanks in part to medal-deserving efforts of the course crew!) First-year FIS athlete Gemma Bexton earned her first top-10 result finishing in 8th place ahead of teammates Julia Ross (10th) and Gigi Kranjc (11th). The Men’s event was won handily by former WMSC (now BCST) racer Alexander Valentin, nearly 2 seconds ahead of the next finisher. Kosta Petkovic finished up in 11th position, while teammate Griffin Brumec-Parsons came from the 40’s to place 15th! For Conrad, these results marked a couple high point of the week: “Griffin and Gemma, our “underdogs,” lead the charge on day one of GS. They kept any nerves they had in check, brought their best skiing from training to the race, and put 2 great runs in the barn.”
At the Team Captains’ meeting on Wednesday night, all three major weather forecasts called for significant amounts of snow, so Chief of Race Graham Ross called for Plan P…as in powder…for Thursday (a very well supported decision!) Most athletes chose some very different lines from the previous day, and were observed all over the resort, from Spanky’s to 7th to Harmony. It was a memorable break for a lot of them from the intensity of the race days, especially for some who’d never been to Whistler before!
Then Friday cooled and cleared and the racing was back on for day #2 of GS. BCST’s Kristina Natalenko made it clear it was going to be her day, winning both runs and finishing nearly 2.5 seconds ahead of the next racer, teammate Frances MacDonald. Whistler’s Gigi Kranjc and Julia Ross again finished close to one another, placing 11th and 12th respectively. The Men’s event was again won by Alexander Valentin, and Whistler teammates Jack Forsyth and Dawson Yates (ahead after first run) battled it out through second run to wind up 10th (Forsyth) and 11th (Yates).
At the completion of Friday’s event, tear down and on-hill awards, athletes then had to shift gears in preparation of two days of slalom racing at Grouse Mountain where the BC Cup series continued. Conditions were more of a challenge in terms of keeping the race course consistent, with soft snow and varying visibility throughout the weekend, but the Tyee Ski Club was well equipped to manage what Mother Nature dished out, and, despite numerous DNFs, both race days were run and most of our club kids wound up with results that’ll lend to better start numbers next series.
On the women’s side, it was unquestionably BC Team’s Kristina Natalenko’s event as she claimed the silver and gold medals, but the Whistler gals held their own, not only finishing the race (unlike approximately 50% of the field both days), but for Gigi Kranjc, scoring 9th Saturday and 10th Sunday, Gemma Bexton 11th both days, and Julia Ross a 9th place on Sunday….and even more spectacular was her 3rd place finish in the 2nd run of day 1 after some, well….complications in her first run!
Said her coach, Conrad, “Julia’s second run domination in the SL races at Grouse was another incredible highlight of the series for me. Two days in a row she upped her intensity on second runs and came close to winning the run both times. Exciting for her, but on a bigger scale very exciting for the whole team to see that aiming for the top step isn’t unrealistic at all. On a level playing field (ruts and fog) they’re all just as fast as the guys and girls they’re chasing. The timing couldn’t be better for things to start coming together on race day as we head bravely into March Madness!”
The men were led by WMSC alumni-now-BC Team athlete Asher Jordan who won both days’ races. On Saturday, WMSC’s Kosta Petkovic made an impressive leap from 10th spot after first run to finish in 5th position, and Dawson Yates earned a top-seed result as well on the Sunday, ending up in 12th.
Congratulations to all of the Whistler FIS athletes for their performances during last week’s series, and thanks to the coaches who put in even longer hours to help make it all happen. Now it’s back to school and a week or so of training before the next couple of stops on the ‘tour’ including the Canadian National Championships at Red Mountain in Rossland, BC March 21-25 and the Western Spring Series at Panorama April 3-8.
For full results, click the links below and/or go to: http://bcalpine.com/news/
Women’s SG #1 | Tuesday, Feb 27
Men’s SG #1 | Tuesday, Feb 27
Women’s SG #2 | Tuesday, Feb 27
Men’s SG #2 | Tuesday, Feb 27
Women’s GS #1 | Wednesday, Feb 28
Men’s GS #1 | Wednesday, Feb 28
Women’s GS #2 | Friday, March 2
Men’s GS #2 | Friday, March 2
GROUSE MTN/TYEE RACES:
Women’s SL #1 | Saturday, March 3
Men’s SL #1 | Saturday, March 3
Women’s SL #2 | Saturday, March 4
Men’s SL #2 | Saturday, March 4
Current FIS BC Cup Points Standings
For more information, please contact:
Media Liaison Whistler Mountain Ski Club
PYEONGCHANG, KOR (March 10, 2018) — The para-alpine team was the first team to reach the podium at the PyeongChang Paralympic Games during the opening day of competition Friday, bringing home Canada’s first medal of the Games, as well as the first gold medal.
Mac Marcoux (Sault Ste-Marie, ON) won gold in the men’s visually impaired event alongside his guide Jack Leitch (Calgary, AB). The duo crossed the finish line in a blistering one minute, 23.93 seconds –– a full 1:42 seconds faster than their closest competitors. Earlier in the day, Mollie Jepsen (West Vancouver, BC) took bronze in the women’s downhill standing event in a time of 1:34.60 behind powerhouses Marie Bochet of France and Germany’s Andrea Rothfuss, clinching the Canadian Paralympic Team’s first medal of the Games.
“It’s surreal. I think we’re both still pretty numb with excitement,” Marcoux said following his winning run. “This takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the week.”
Marcoux and Leitch gained speed in the middle and bottom portions of the course, overcoming what Marcoux called “a bit of a squirrelly top section.”
“In the top, I was a little off of the line I wanted to be, but we pulled it together coming out of the top and it felt smooth and fun after that.”
Marcoux won gold in 2014 at the Sochi Paralympic Games in the giant slalom event, but the top of the podium eluded the 20-year-old in downhill four years ago when he was just 16. He won downhill bronze in Sochi.
“The Sochi downhill was exciting, but I was really inexperienced at the time and I ended up getting overwhelmed with the hype of the Paralympics,” he said. “This time around, it felt good to be able to go into the race a little more relaxed and to have the right experience under my skis. It let me go in and charge, and really just have fun.”
Marcoux acknowledged the expectations that come with being a five-time World Champion and dominating the World Para-Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit this season.
“Even though our goal heading into this race was to keep things light, there are definitely some goals that creep into the back of your mind,” he said. “I think coming out on top the first day makes it easier for us to attack the rest of the races. We just want to have fun and ski, and see what we can do.”
The medal is the first Paralympic result for guide Leitch, who said having family here is one of the best elements of the Games. Leitch has guided Marcoux since 2016, and this is his first Paralympics.
“The success we’ve had together the past couple of years has been pretty awesome, but to get this together is probably the most special result so far,” Leitch said. “Being at the Paralympics and having our families here is a pretty cool experience.”
The Marcoux and Leitch families were waiting together to congratulate their sons, embracing in tearful hugs following the race. Marcoux received an extra squeeze from older brother Billy-Joe Marcoux, who travelled to PyeongChang to cheer on his younger sibling. The two share a special bond, as Billy-Joe was Marcoux’s guide from childhood until 2016. The brothers were meant to race together in 2014 in Sochi, but a back injury pulled Billy-Joe out of competition at the last minute.
“Thank you to all Canadians who are at home watching and supporting us,” Marcoux added. “You can really feel it over here. I’ve received some great messages from home, and it’s so amazing to feel that support.”
JEPSEN CAPTURES BRONZE
Newcomer Jepsen, who is just 18 years old, captured bronze following a “nerve-wracking” run.
“I’m really proud to be able to represent Canada and bring home our first medal,” Jepsen said. Jepsen’s top result prior to the Paralympics came at this season’s World Cup finals where she topped the podium in super-G.
In Friday’s race, she was the first racer out of the start gate – a position that causes even seasoned veterans pre-race jitters.
“It was actually pretty nerve-wracking,” she said. “It was a little stressful being bib #1, but I’ve reviewed that course about 100 times over the past few days, so I was trying my best to stay light and happy. I was quite happy with the top section of my run. I knew I had put down something that was at least a little bit good.”
As Jepsen crossed the finish line in front of a sea of screaming fans, her nervous energy dissolved.
“It was just great to be able to cross the finish line and see the crowd. That’s something I’ve never experienced, so it was pretty cool. Now I’m really looking forward to the rest of my races. This was a great way to start moving into the super-G tomorrow. I’m looking ahead.”
OTHER CANADIANS CLOSE
Alexis Guimond (Gatineau, QC) and Alana Ramsay (Calgary, AB), both just missed the podium with fourth-place finishes, while Kirk Schornstein (Spruce Grove, AB) and Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON) were sixth. Kurt Oatway (Calgary, AB) was eighth, and Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON) and Mel Pemble (Victoria, BC) finished sixth and ninth, respectively. Braydon Luscombe (Duncan, BC) and Frederique Turgeon (Candiac, QC) were unlucky and both fell, resulting in DNFs. Neither were injured.
ALL CANADIAN RESULTS: Men’s and Women’s Downhill, PyeongChang, South Korea
1 – Mac Marcoux (Sault Ste-Marie, ON) and guide Jack Leitch (Calgary, AB) – Men’s visually impaired
4 – Alexis Guimond (Gatineau, QC)
6 – Kirk Schornstein (Spruce Grove, AB)
8 – Kurt Oatway (Calgary, AB)
DNF – Braydon Luscombe (Duncan, BC)
3 – Mollie Jepsen (West Vancouver, BC)
4 – Alana Ramsay (Calgary, AB)
6 – Erin Latimer (Toronto, ON)
9 – Mel Pemble (Victoria, BC)
DNF – Frederique Turgeon (Candiac, QC)
Click here for detailed results
NEXT EVENT: Saturday, March 10: 7:30 PM EST – Men’s and Women’s Super-G
Click here for the full Paralympic schedule
All Para alpine events are available live online at cbc.ca/paralympics or paralympic.org, with additional coverage on CBC TV, Sportsnet and AMI. In addition, anyone can broadcast the events from your own Facebook or Twitter feed by signing up at GreatnessIsRare.ca.
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