(Spring 2006 Green and White)
Collette Bourgonie

From being the first student in a wheelchair to graduate from the U of S with a degree in Physical Education to winning bronze at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy, Colette Bourgonje (BSPE'84, BEd'85) has always set her sights high. We met with the elementary school teacher to talk about training, teaching, and what it takes to become a winning paralympian.

G&W How did you get involved in crosscountry sit skiing?

CB I was involved in wheelchair racing for quite a few years prior to skiing, and a friend, Joe Harison, asked if I wanted to try a sit ski that had been brought over from Europe. I said sure, and I tried it out and thought it was awesome. I've been doing it ever since.

G&W Why did you make the jump from wheelchair racing to cross-country skiing?

CB I like the environment a lot better. You're out in the woods, and some of the areas we've skied have been absolutely amazing. So, mostly it's the environment [and] the skills that are required. It's not pushing something in a circle - hand cycling is just going in a circle - it requires skill and balance and technique to be good at it. It also gives me the same feeling that cross country running gave me, as far as being able to push yourself to the limit. It's exhausting. It's actually one of the toughest sports I've ever done. Cross country skiing as an able-bodied person is one of the toughest things you can do. And when you're disabled, you have to work even harder.

G&W What's your training regimen like?

CB It depends on the season, but I normally train between five and six times a week. At least three of those days I train twice a day. It's a lot of hours.

G&W How many different countries have you traveled to this year?

CB Quite a few. This year alone, we started off with doing the World Cup in Lillehammer, then we went to France for some races, then we skied some races in Switzerland, then Germany. Then we ended up in Italy. That was just this year alone. We were gone for over two months.

G&W Why have you decided to base yourself out of Saskatoon?

CB I went to university here, and we have the Sport Medicine and Science Centre here with [Athlete Services Director] Bruce Craven. He's totally awesome at what he does. I worked with him with wheelchair racing and have now connected with him quite a bit this past year with skiing. He's amazing.

G&W How important is having a solid network of sports experts locally?

CB It's definitely a benefit to have it. If you want to be on the top, you need that support...it's a pretty integrated system. We can access the same amount of experts just as well as any of the able bodied people. We have access to nutritionists, psychologists, and a whole sports science crew.

G&W How have your students reacted to your victory in Turin?

CB They've been really excited. [However], it's been nice to be able to come back and get into what we're supposed to be focusing on. I teach part-time, otherwise I wouldn't be able to do this at all. Even teaching part-time is difficult. It's demanding.

G&W Is the world starting to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Paralympics?

CB I think it's getting better. I've definitely seen changes. I've been around for a long time, and I've seen a lot of changes and a greater acceptance by the media over the years. I think once the media covers an event, people take it a bit more seriously. Once people are able to see the events, they're more impressed because they see that [disabled athletes] train hard for their events.

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