Four-time Olympic cross-country skier Shirley Firth Larsson died Tuesday at her home in Yellowknife, surrounded by family.

Firth Larsson, 59, was diagnosed with cancer a year and a half ago.

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Four-time Olympic cross-country skier Shirley Firth Larsson died Tuesday at her home in Yellowknife, surrounded by family. (CBC)

Her twin sister Sharon Firth described her as a strong and brave woman who always stood her ground.

"We shared so many things in life," she said. "No one can come between the memories Shirley and I have,"

The two sisters from Aklavik, N.W.T., made history as the first women from the N.W.T. and the first aboriginal women to represent Canada in cross-country skiing in the Olympics. They competed in four Winter Olympics between 1972 and 1984.

"To be competing with giants at that level was a tremendous accomplishment for us as aboriginal women," said Sharon Firth. "We said, ‘if we can do it, anyone can do it.’"

Firth Larsson won 42 Canadian national championship medals (29 gold, 10 silver and 3 bronze) and was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1987.

After she married, she lived in France for two decades and earned a teaching diploma from the University of Paris before moving back to the N.W.T. with her husband Jan Larsson in 2005.

Larsson said when his wife was diagnosed with cancer she made a decision to continue to work. She went out and bought a brand-new bicycle with which to commute.

"Every day that she could cycle to work was for her a victory," Larsson said.

He said his wife didn’t focus on her achievements in sports.

"She always said the past is a part of you but you have to live now and in the future."

In fact, he said she did not even mention sports in the instructions she left for her memorial.

"She said, ‘when you talk about me, talk about family, the importance of family and of mothers in the family, about health, how we always have to strive to stay healthy, about education, and about Christian values like love, forgiveness and hope,’" he said.

Firth Larsson leaves behind her husband and three daughters.