Woolstencroft to carry flag at closing ceremonies
When Lauren Woolstencroft was a child she used to come home from school, then disappear into the basement.
The little girl who was born with no legs below the knee and no left arm was teaching herself how to skip rope.
"She was so determined even at that age to learn how to skip," remembers her mother Dorothy. "She went down in the basement and she practised and practised until she could do it. She didn't say anything to anybody.
"She started that determination early."
That drive and perseverance Woolstencroft showed as a child helped push her to win five alpine gold medals at the Winter Paralympics. It also resulted in her being named Canada's flag-bearer for the Paralympic closing ceremonies Sunday.
"It's a big surprise," said Woolstencroft, 28, of North Vancouver, B.C. "The team is so strong and there are lots of amazing athletes on it.
"It was never my goal to carry the flag. I am really humbled."
Woolstencroft's five medals make her the most decorated female athlete in a single Winter Paralympics. During the 34-year history of the Winter Paralympics only seven women have won four gold in a single Games.
"She has set a new standard for winter Paralympic athletes," said Blair McIntosh, Canada's chef de mission. "She has earned this incredible recognition."
Jean Labonte, captain of the sledge hockey team, was the flag-bearer at the opening ceremony.
Colette Bourgonje of Saskatoon was Canada's flag-bearer at closing of the 2006 Paralympics in Turin.
Other candidates for flag-bearer were visually-impaired skier Viviane Forest of Edmonton, who won five medals (one gold, three silvers, one bronze) and Brian McKeever of Canmore, Alta., who won three gold in cross-country skiing for the visually impaired.
Woolstencroft is a slender woman with an easy smile and stoic personality. She skis with prosthetic legs and arm.
During the week she didn't just win her races, she crushed the competition. She won Saturday's super-combined race by nearly 12 seconds. Her margin in the Friday's super-giant slalom was seven seconds.
"I knew I had the potential, but to do it is something else," said Woolstencroft, who also won the slalom, giant slalom and downhill in the standing category. "Ski racing, you can catch an edge at any moment.
"Just to be consistent like that in five races, it's huge. It means a lot."
Woolstencroft's five gold leaves her tied with wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc and swimmer Stephanie Dixon for most gold medals at a single Paralympics.
She led a Canadian team that won 10 gold medals, the country's best at any Winter Paralympics. The previous high was the six won at the 2002 Salt Lake Paralympics.
The country's overall medal count of 19 (10 gold, five silver and four bronze) also tops any Winter Paralympic haul. Canada won 15 medals at a Paralympics twice, in 2002 and 1998 in Nagano.
When Woolstencroft skis she is calculating and precise. Even when pushing the envelope at speeds of close to 100 kilometres an hour, she looks totally in control.
Off the slopes, Woolstencroft works as an electrical engineer for BC Hydro. She actually helped design some of the overlays for the Olympic venues.
"I was a math-science person growing up," said Woolstencroft. "I've always skied and engineering is what I fell into.
"The two do have similarities."
A fierce competitor, Woolstencroft isn't a very demonstrative person. An arm pump and a wave to the crowd was the most emotion she showed after her victories.
"I'm not a really showy person in general," she shrugged. "Sometimes I should probably show my excitement more."
Dorothy Woolstencroft said her daughter's independent streak bordered on being hard-headed at times.
"I think she was four when she said to her father 'you're not the boss of me,"' Dorothy said.
Lauren Woolstencroft calls herself a "super-determined, stubborn person."
Being born with a disability was a double-edge sword for Woolstencroft. She learned to overcome challenges early and adapt to a world that wasn't always designed for people with disabilities.
"I felt I was lucky to be born with a disability versus getting a disability later in life," she said. "I learned to ski on prosthetic legs. I never had any other option.
"I'd rather not have a disability [but] I'm glad I didn't have to adapt to anything. It was how I learned and who I am."
She accepts being a role model for other people dealing with disabilities.
"I got into sport because I love ski racing," Woolstencroft said. "It's part of the parcel. I love the Paralympics. I think it's great for people with disability to get involved in sports. If I can be an example, then it's awesome."
Woolstencroft then paused, and smiled.
"All those late nights skipping taught me well."