Visually impaired Nova Scotia skier aims for Winter Paralympics in 2022

A 16-year-old visually impaired ski racer from Granville Ferry, N.S., wants to compete for Canada in the 2022 Winter Paralympic in Beijing.

'I will never drive a car, but I can go one hundred kilometres per hour on skiis'

Brenda MacDonald, 16, started skiing to prove people with disabilities can do any sport. (CBC)

A 16-year-old visually impaired ski racer from Granville Ferry, N.S., has set some high goals in the sport she loves, and the big one is to compete for Canada in the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Brenda MacDonald spent this past weekend sharpening her skills on the slopes of Ski Ben Eoin in Cape Breton.

She spoke with CBC Radio's Information Morning Cape Breton host Steve Sutherland. Her guide and coach, Jonathan MacDonald, joined her for the interview.

Sutherland: "Brenda, I saw on your write-up online that you wrote: 'I am sixteen years old. I love skiing. I am visually impaired. I have a dog and a cat. I will never drive a car but I can go one hundred kilometres per hour on skis.' First of all, if you wouldn't mind describing what your level of impairment is: what do you see when you're skiing?"

Brenda Macdonald: "The best way I can describe my eyesight is if you close your left eye and squint through your right eye, that gives a rough idea how I can see. So when I'm on the hill all I really see is the white snow around me and the trees on either side, and Jonathan, my guide, which I follow, so I see the person in front of me.  

"And sometimes I don't see the people around me, and I don't see any depth. That's why I have the guide to tell me where it gets steeper, or flatter, stuff like that, because I won't be able to see that when I get to that area."

Sutherland: "So Jonathan, you're skiing in front of Brenda. What are you doing?"

Jonathan MacDonald: "We've got a Scala Rider headset so we have microphone contact. So when we're coming over a pitch I'll announce 'pitch.' If we're going into combinations throughout the course, I'll tell her when we're coming on the combination and what direction to exit from. If there's some ice coming up I might give her fair warning on that. Anywhere we might be able to increase speed we try to call that out."

Sutherland: "So what's it meant for you since signing on as Brenda's coach and guide?"

Jonathan MacDonald: "It's been awesome. We've been all over the place. We spent August in Chile, we were in Banff back in April, Quebec for a few days, Panorama [B.C.] back in November, early December, and we even made it to Winter Park, Colorado, just before Christmas. At the end of the week we're heading down to Lake Placid, New York, to Whiteface, so it's gonna be good."

Sutherland: "It's quite an investment on your part?"

Jonathan MacDonald: "It's a lot of time, but hopefully we can get her into the Paralympic Games for 2022. It's an attainable goal for sure."

Brenda Macdonald: "But first goal I have is to try to get on the prospect team, then get on the national team."

Sutherland: "What's this going to involve from you to make to the Paralympic team?"

Brenda Macdonald: "Well, training hard, races, getting time on the snow — just working hard at it and trying to keep up as well with schoolwork here at Kings."

Sutherland: "Now I can detect a mild accent. You were born in Mexico?"

Brenda Macdonald: (Laughs) "Yes. My dad is originally from here, Nova Scotia, and my mom is from Mexico. I was born in Mexico. Then my dad wanted to show me how a small town is, and what it feels like to live in Canada in a small town. And then I came here to Kings-Edgehill, and by being so close to (Ski) Martock and being able to ski every day, that's how I was introduced to skiing. And then I wanted to do it more and more, and I wanted to try racing and I tried it — and I was hooked on it."

Sutherland: "What is it, Jonathan, that appeals to you about this relationship that you've committed to?"

Jonathan MacDonald: "Brenda's really eager. If someone tells her she can't do it, she wants to prove them wrong, she gets up and does it and proves them wrong. From last year to this year, just racing together, same race, same course, same run, we've shaved off probably half a minute, 30 seconds, in total."


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