Larisa Yurkiw used rejection to light her entrepreneurial fire

Larisa Yurkiw used rejection to light her entrepreneurial fire


Getting cut from Alpine Canada turned this skier into an independent success story

Larisa Yurkiw for CBC Sports
Larisa Yurkiw tore her ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and both lateral and medial menisci on Dec. 19, 2009. She was forced to miss the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. (Photo courtesy Larisa Yurkiw) Larisa Yurkiw tore her ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and both lateral and medial menisci on Dec. 19, 2009. She was forced to miss the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. (Photo courtesy Larisa Yurkiw)

Being an athlete is a unique job.

Your daily priority is to use your environment as efficiently and effectively as possible so as to improve your athletic ability and gain success.

You, you, you. The athlete life is a selfish one.

In a split moment in France, two months prior to the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010, my tunnel vision for being the fastest female in Alpine ski racing would broaden.

I tore my ACL, MCL, patellar tendon and both lateral and medial menisci on Dec. 19, 2009. On New Year’s Eve, I got my knee fixed with a staple, a couple synthetic darts, someone else’s ACL and three hours of surgery. Happy New Year!

I spent the following two years getting back to my normal self, limp-free, and weighing the idea of skiing again. It wasn’t until I put skis on that I weighed the idea of going 130 km/h down mountains again.

The national ski team welcomed me back when I was ready and I fought it out on the World Cup circuit for a season. I knew I would need more than two months to return to peak form having had two years sidelined.

My next obstacle was the national ski team’s decision not to wait for that. With a lack of funding, a constant challenge for amateur sport, the women’s speed team was ceased…

After two years of rehabilitation and one year trying to find her race gear, Yurkiw wondered if maybe this was a sign that it was time to hang up the skis. (Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters) After two years of rehabilitation and one year trying to find her race gear, Yurkiw wondered if maybe this was a sign that it was time to hang up the skis. (Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

Breaking up is hard to do

I got the news via email in Mexico on a post-season holiday.

After two years of rehabilitation and one year trying to find my race gear, I wondered if maybe this was a sign that it was time to hang up the skis.

I’m not great at hanging up my coat when I walk in my house, so hanging up skis was a wild idea.

I was devastated. I cried to my family and closest friends and felt so exhausted.

I was tired of being Princess Resilience and felt ready for being plain-old successful.

I also felt confused at the idea that I had devoted my entire life, to that point, to representing Canada in Alpine ski racing and all I received as a thank you and goodbye was an email.

Deep down, I knew I had a flame still burning for this crazy sport. I didn’t have results, I didn’t have the money and now I didn’t have the federation behind me.

 
Yurkiw moved up to 12th in the world and qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It was the most rewarding time of her life. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images) Yurkiw moved up to 12th in the world and qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It was the most rewarding time of her life. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Team Larisa is born

It was a tall order but, lucky for 27-year-old me, I had desperation. Thus, the onset of Team Larisa. I hired a coach and raised enough money to start my training as an independent.

I was ranked 77th in the world at the time — nothing to write home about. But I was on a mission to go to what would be my first Winter Olympic Games in Sochi 2014. 

In the first four races of that season, I moved up to 12th in the world and qualified for the Olympics. It was the most rewarding time of my life.

I have always been an introvert at heart, sitting at the back of the classroom, not giving my opinion unless called upon. So, writing my name on the back of my jacket and standing up for myself in a very public way was an amazing experience and one I carry with me daily.

I grew confidence and a sense of belonging in a group of elite and professional athletes. The experience has strengthened my entrepreneurial spirit and required me to manage around $200,000 a year.

My passion for business and taking responsibility for details like transportation, accommodation and even something as simple as ski passes proved to be key in my success.

There was no time for completing an MBA. I simply had nothing to lose and deep belief in my potential. I was very fortunate to meet sponsors with similar life experiences and trust in my promise to rise to the top.

 
Yurkiw and her coach Kurt Mayr, right, enjoying Italy just days before the Canadian won her first World Cup silver medal. (Photo courtesy Larisa Yurkiw) Yurkiw and her coach Kurt Mayr, right, enjoying Italy just days before the Canadian won her first World Cup silver medal. (Photo courtesy Larisa Yurkiw)

Cycle of inspiration

In its third year, Team Larisa is running well. I reached my first career podium (a silver) in February 2015 in Italy and feel the momentum for many more! My coach and I work closely with the Swedish national ski team and find efficiencies wherever we can.

I have learned so much about the value of vulnerability and belief in oneself. Today, I am part of a cycle of inspiration.

People write to me of ways they were inspired by my story and I, in turn, feel inspired by hearing them. I have tried to use my platform to promote courage, bravery and taking a chance on oneself through my Brave Badge campaign. Little stickers of pride for ski helmets all over Canada signify a kid looking a challenge square in the face.

It’s not about winning or medals. It’s about rewarding kids for overcoming a lack of confidence by simply working hard.

My independence is anything but lonely. I have a large community of youth and elderly alike that can relate to taking a chance on themselves.

The journey has been amazing and made ski racing much more than just a sport for me. I still wake up most mornings overwhelmed at the idea that I am trying to be the best in the world at something ‘today,’ but, for the most part, the challenge of racing for two minutes down a mountain is the simplest part of my day next to managing Team Larisa.

All I have to do is put my goggles on, do up my boot buckles and TRUST. Results aside, I know I will feel forever successful in this sport for the self-exploration it took to create an opportunity to perform on the world stage from the ground up.

I constantly try to use my platform to promote bravery and share the power of vulnerability.

“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace for innovation, creativity and change.” — Brene Brown, professor/author

(Large photos courtesy Getty Images)

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