The wise athlete knows best. Larisa Yurkiw has proved this both on and off the snow throughout her remarkable career.
This past season was Larisa’s best, finishing 3rd in the season-long World Cup downhill standings. She led the Canadian effort with three podium performances.
But knee issues surfaced again as the season wound down and a recent surgery on the knee she calls “her good one”, appeared to be the writing on the wall.
Larisa’s story is a great one. The epitome of determination, to overcome. A lesson for every single athlete.
Anyone who knows how challenging it is to podium at the highest levels in downhill appreciates what I speak of. The speed disciplines are dominated by the powerful squads from Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France and the USA for a reason: the Team. Resources. Coaching. Eyes on the track. Teammates. Servicemen. Access to great equipment. The pool of support that goes with a strong team provides the critical resources to build success.
Larisa and her coach, Kurt Mayr, found their own way. An international collaboration between Norquay, Sweden, Germany and Team Larisa – to replicate the capacity of a big team. Teammates to provide the competitive environment and also to be your soul-mates. Coaches and eyes to line the track in training and in competition. Efficiency through combining resources between nations who could not offer a full program to individual elite athletes.
She was smart with her campaign to raise funding. She brought value to those who believed in her, whether it was a personal sponsor or donation. The “Brave Badge” concept blended her own courage to overcome with a clear message to younger athletes that they could succeed as well by “stepping outside their comfort zone.”
Some suggested Larisa needed to ‘return to the fold’ of the Canadian Team, to help the next generation. But since 2010 and in particular the past two years, she’s been competing at a level no other Canadian female was close to. Canada’s number two athlete, Valerie Grenier, is a very promising talent, but has yet to score a result in the top 30 of a World Cup in this event. She only has four World Cup downhill starts.
Larisa was at an entirely different level. Third best in the world.
She proved that a dream combined with determined effort can be successful. These are skills that will serve her well as she moves to new pursuits. In fact, don’t be surprised to find Larisa Yurkiw in a leadership role in sport in the not too distant future.
Thank you, Larisa. For showing us all that individual initiative still shapes athletic outcomes. For not giving up when your team disappeared around you. For staying the course when the outlook was bleak from your injuries and embarking on the pathway to independent status. For being gracious when you proved the doubters wrong, reaching the podium and being named to the 2014 Olympic Team. For your podium this winter on the Orieller-Killy piste in Val d’Isere, France (a personal favourite on mine).
Behind every champion, there is the support team and those who quietly lend their support. Like pretty much every successful athlete, family is crucial. To her parents Lynda Montgomery and Denis Yurkiw and her two brothers Harrison and Mitchell. Well done. You believed and supported Larisa unconditionally.
One year ago, when Larisa was renamed to the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, she wrote a post explaining why she would continue on the independent pathway. In her own words, here is what I think the persona of Larisa Yurkiw has come to mean to all Canadians: