Saskatchewan

Sit skier looks to boost sport's coverage, funding

Kurt Oatway is in Regina to help promote the sit skiing and help unveil a new exhibit at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame.

Kurt Oatway first started sit skiing in 2010

Kurt Oatway receives a gold medal in France after a World Cup sit skiing competition. (Submitted by Regina Alpine Adaptive Ski Program)

As a child in Alberta, Kurt Oatway grew up ski racing. But it wasn't until he studied at the University of Saskatchewan and broke his back that he discovered the sport of sit skiing.

Today, he's a four-time World Cup medallist in downhill sit skiing. 

Oatway's in Regina to help promote the sport and help unveil a new exhibit at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame that features disabled athletes. 

Born and raised in Edmonton, Oatway raced competitively from ages six through 17. When he moved to Saskatoon to attend the U of S in 2007 to study geology, he suffered a severe back injury — what he called a broken back.

According to his profile on the Alpine Canada website, he was on a university field trip in Utah in September 2007, when fell 12 metres "from a rock outcrop suffering a radial compression fracture of the T12 vertebra" in his back. It resulted in an incomplete spinal cord injury, according to his profile.

It was in 2010, while he was doing rehab in Saskatoon that he first learned of sit skiing. His physiotherapist put him in touch with the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing. 

That led him to a well-known prairie ski hill: Mission Ridge in the Qu'Appelle valley. "That was the first place where I ever sat in a sit ski," which was in March 2010, he said.

Kurt Oatway, centre podium, and his competitors receive their medals at a World Cup sit ski competition in France. (Submitted by Regina Alpine Adaptive Ski Program)

From then on, he set a goal to compete at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, a goal he achieved. He placed fifth in downhill and ninth in the Super G.

In terms of other international competition, Oatway won a bronze medal in the 2014 World Cup in slalom, in New Zealand.

This year, he's won three gold World Cup medals: one in Slovenia in giant slalom and two in France, both in downhill.

Funding always a challenge

One of the toughest challenges he's encountered in this sport is funding, Oatway said, noting that funding for his sport tends "to be a little bit more challenging than say able-bodied racers."

"They're all highly talented people and they need money too, to go out and do what they do best. But we need money just as much, if not a little more."

Oatway said that's because companies are more willing to invest in an able-bodied person to do a sport since "it's more visible, more people watch it on television."

For example, Paralympic athletes find it extremely difficult to get coverage of their sports outside of an Olympic year, he said. 

"To secure a sponsor, or secure government funding through various programs, is incredibly important," he said. "If it wasn't for certain government programs like Own the Podium, we would have a very hard time doing what it is we do."

Sights set on South Korea

Though he's mostly out of the training circuit for this year, Oatway said next year and early 2018 are both times ripe for training ahead of the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. 

"It's the usual. It's getting out, skiing as many times as you can throughout the season," he said. "Anytime out on the hill is money in the bank, really."

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