How Yoda and sleep training helped these local Paralympians prep for Beijing

Three Ottawa-area athletes are in Beijing this week to compete at the 2022 Paralympic Games. They shared unique training philosophies and good luck charms as they prepared on Team Canada.

Athlete credits need for speed, another thanks wise words from Star Wars

From left to right, Alexis Guimond, Collinda Joseph, and Brian Rowland compete in their respective sports. The trio are in Beijing to compete in the Paralympics, which begins Friday. (WCF/Alina Pavlyuchik and L.Percival)

Three Ottawa-area athletes are in Beijing this week to compete at the 2022 Paralympic Games, and they're opening up about their unique training techniques and good luck charms as they prepared to represent Team Canada.

The Games begin Friday starting with men's downhill alpine skiing.

From sleep training to clinging onto wise words from Star Wars, these athletes share what it was like leading up to the Games.

Alexis Guimond, alpine skier from Gatineau, Que.

For Alexis Guimond, words of wisdom from Star Wars have shaped his path to the Beijing Games. 

"Yoda for me is a role model," said the 22-year-old. "He just incorporates what I aspire to be. He is discipline, honour, he is graceful, he is controlled and calm." 

Guimond says he takes Yoda's words of wisdom to heart, despite him being a fictional character. He'll even watch a few clips of Star Wars before hopping on the slope.

"The Yoda quotes are very close to my heart," said Guimond. "It puts me in the mood to go racing."

Alexis Guimond says wise words from one of his favourite movies helped him prepare for the Beijing Paralympics this year. (L.Percival)

This is Guimond's second time competing on the Paralympic stage. He brought home a bronze medal in the giant slalom in Pyeongchang in 2018 — making him the first Canadian men's standing skier to make the Paralympic podium in 20 years, according to the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

At the last Paralympics, Guimond said he felt overwhelmed and in "a trance" most of the time. 

"In these Games I'm going to be able to re-centre myself and be able to fully focus on my performance," he said. 

Guimond was diagnosed with full paralysis on his right side at six months old and a partial paralysis on his left side at 12.

He was 18 during Pyeongchang, has since put on about 20 to 30 pounds of muscle mass and has more experience under his belt.

Guimond says there's a huge gap between his standing skiing skills from then to now.

"I'm ready physically, mentally." 

Guimond says he's not one to bring good luck charms to Games, but he is carrying The Mandalorian's "Baby Yoda" with him to Beijing.

"Actually I bring him around on my phone all the time. He's my background — him and Shrek," he said.

Collinda Joseph, curler from Ottawa 

Collinda Joseph from the west Ottawa suburb of Stittsville says she's been on "teenager standard time" in anticipation of the 13-hour time difference between Ottawa and Beijing.

The 56-year-old first-time Paralympic curler has been sleeping at 1 a.m., and getting out of bed at 11 a.m., to train her internal clock in time for the Games. 

"It's been an interesting challenge staying in bed," she said, chuckling. Sleep training has been difficult, but moving the team's training to late nights has helped. 

"We're off the ice around 10:30, 11 [p.m.] ... and that's helped me," Joseph said.

Collinda Joseph is seen at the 2021 World Curling Championships in Beijing's Ice Cube, a dress rehearsal for her first time at the Paralympics this year. (WCF/Alina Pavlyuchik)

Joseph first tried wheelchair curling at the RA Centre in Ottawa 17 years ago. She said it took a while before she curled on a regular basis — then the rest was history.

"The cerebral part of the game was really kind of what got me hooked. And I didn't expect that at all," she said. "There's still a ton more to learn." 

Joseph says over the last few years, the sport of wheelchair curling has struggled and the pandemic deterred curling hopefuls from trying it out. 

"I think there's been a decline in the number of people who are participating in the sport. So we're hoping the Paralympic Games will ... kickstart another wave of people who'd be interested."

Brian Rowland, alpine skier from Merrickville, Ont.

Brian Rowland is at his first ever Paralympic Games in Beijing — a dream that came true, he says, thanks in part to his insatiable need for speed.

"I need adrenaline in my life. I need excitement," Rowland said. "I have a need for speed." 

Sitting on his single-ski setup, Rowland says he'll sometimes plummet downhill at 100 kilometres per hour — and even crash at times. 

"I like to scare myself," he said. "I'll start flipping, tumble down the hill, tomahawk, my outriggers go flying, sometimes my ski pops off, maybe some things break, bounce, hit my head, shoulders, whatever.

"It's pretty violent but I manage to get back up most of the time." 

Brian Rowland in action. 'There's no stopping him,' says Rowland's first sit ski coach, Andy Van Grunsven. (L.Percival)

His first ever coach says there's no stopping Rowland.

"If he had crashed, he'd crash and burn and get right back up and ski like it didn't happen.... He's a go-getter," said Andy Van Grunsven, who first taught Rowland how to sit ski at Calabogie Peaks ski resort.

Following his spinal injury in 2015 from a dirt bike crash, the once-avid snowboarder turned to sit skiing. Rowland said he began setting little goals at a time, and it didn't take long before he started with Team Ontario, then onto the national team. 

"I just fully devoted my life to ski racing," said Rowland, who's now 35.

Rowland says though he revels in his need for speed on the snow, he still loves a good puzzle night at home.

With files from Hallie Cotnam, Julie Delaney and Giacomo Panico

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