Chris Williamson is set to make his fourth Paralympic appearance when he competes in the super combined at the Sochi Games on Tuesday. The 41-year-old from Toronto is one of the world's most decorated Paralympic athletes competing in para-alpine events.
Throughout his career, Williamson has landed on the podium at more than 100 World Cup events and captured eight overall World Cup titles, and is ranked third in the world for the super combined.
But his success in Sochi will depend on a few factors, not least of which is how well he's recovered from surgery to repair his left tibial plateau, which he fractured in August while training in New Zealand.
The injury forced him to miss the 2013-14 World Cup season, but not to give up his dream of competing in Sochi.
"I’m not very much of a quitter,” Williamson said in August. “I think we have a lot of options to look at before we close the curtain on the year.”
Drive and determination have the been the hallmarks of Williamson's success since 2002, when, at 29, he won gold in the visually impaired slalom event at the Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City.
That moment inspired him and pushed him to continue his career, adding two more Paralympic medals to his collection. Now, Williamson has the opportunity to expand his already impressive list of accolades at the Games in Sochi.
“It's not just in alpine skiing, it's that podium,” he said. “I had great luck in my first Paralympics and won gold on the very last day. And it's an addictive little nudge.
"It's a fix you just can't get enough of. And so I'm wanting to do it one more time.”
Disability doesn't limit potential
The journey hasn’t always been about podium performances. While Williamson has experienced some of the most gratifying moments in sport, he has also learned from the bad days when performance failed to meet expectations.
“I have learned quite a bit,” said Williamson. “The biggest lesson was four years ago in Vancouver. I went in skiing very well and had probably the worst week out of my life."
'Vancouver I left with a very bitter taste.' - Chris Williamson
After that performance, Williamson refused to retire on a bad note.
“Vancouver I left with a very bitter taste. I know I didn't ski up to my potential. And so my goal is to ski to my potential, be able to walk away being happy with what I've done. I've got a great career, but I know I didn't want to end it the way I did in Vancouver.”
His passion for the sport and years of competition experience have prepared Williamson for when he steps into the spotlight in Sochi. He hopes viewers and fans will take one particular message away from their Paralympic experience.
“It's not just about our disability. It's more, if you look at what we do — I'm visually impaired, I'm not allowed to drive, I skied over 100 kilometres an hour. So I'm skiing faster than most people drive to work. And it's just that. Being inspired by what I've been able to do with my disability."
The father of two knows this will probably be his last Paralympics and believes he can close out his career with another podium finish.
“The only reason I'm still going out there is because I love my sport. I wear the Maple Leaf with pride. I am always honoured when I'm selected to the team.”