Alberta athlete shooting for podium at 2018 Winter Paralympics

Snow in early October pleases almost nobody in Alberta. Derek Zaplotinsky would be the exception.

'He's a good athlete, very focused, very determined,' and he's a contender

Meet Albertan Derek Zaplotinsky who's heading to the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. 3:03

A blanket of snow in early October is seldom a reason to celebrate.

But a dump of 10 centimetres covering the ski trails at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre, east of Edmonton, earlier this week left Derek Zaplotinsky positively giddy.

"This is really exciting. Winter is just around the corner," beamed the 32 year old.
Derek Zaplotinsky is competing in paralympic cross-country skiing and biathlon. (John Robertson/CBC)

For the para-nordic skier, it means more time to prepare for the Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea in March.

"I've got a lot of training to do before the games; the earlier the better for me."

The resident of Smoky Lake, 115 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, has been training for the last three years.

When the flakes don't fall, he straps an off-road skateboard to his sit ski.

The innovation is part of what Zaplotinsky calls a 'challenging journey.'

Eleven years ago he was motocross racing in Lloydminster and another dirt bike landed on him leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Derek Zaplotinsky races at the 2015 IPC World Cup in Cable, Wisconsin. (Strathcona Wilderness Centre)

Zaplotinsky took four years to adjust to his new reality before deciding to return to sport, first as a para-cyclist and then as a cross-country skier.

Enter Bjorn Taylor the services specialist at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre and someone who's been involved with the paralympics for the past 17 years.

"We have great trails here. I said he should come train here and I started coaching him and it grew from there," Taylor said.

Now Zaplotinsky is among 11 athletes who sport the maple leaf on the para-nordic skiing world-cup circuit.

"He's a good athlete, very focused, very determined," Taylor said.
Bjorn Taylor coaches athletes like Derek Zaplotinsky at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre. (John Robertson/CBC)

This will be Taylor's fourth paralympic games as team leader and a coach and Zaplotinsky's first competing in cross-country skiing and biathlon events.

"At the big games anything can happen as long as you're in that top five, top 10; all it takes is one good shot and you're in for the podium," Taylor explains.

The trick is for Zaplotinsky to stay healthy and keep up with his training, he said.

And whether more snow comes or not, that's exactly what Zaplotinsky intends to do.

"It means a lot to be able to represent my country at the biggest stage of my sport. I'm pretty proud."

To see more from the Strathcona Wilderness Centre you can tune into Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
The Strathcona Wilderness Centre, east of Edmonton, is a winter wonderland after a recent snowstorm dumped 10 centimetres on the trials. (John Robertson/CBC)

Adrienne Lamb and John Robertson