One of the most captivating stories heading into the Sochi Winter Games is also one of the biggest underdog stories. Forced to find funding after being unceremoniously dumped by Alpine Canada, who had budgetary problems with operating the women’s speed program, Larisa Yurkiw embodies the spirit of determination and resiliency.
Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds, attempting to qualify for Sochi after suffering a severe knee injury in 2009 at Val d’Isere, France, Yurkiw has seen her dream come true. Compounded by the stress of trying to obtain sponsorship while training, no one would have blamed her had she given up.
In true Olympic spirit, there were no traces of self-pity in her remarkable character as she pushed herself beyond her limits. Employing the wisdom of her father Dennis, who reminded her that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror, only positive thoughts have helped drive her forward. Of note, her parents actually booked the trip to Sochi a year ago, the ultimate sign that they believed in her.
Raising $150,000 in order to finance her dream (one of her biggest supporters was Buduchnist Credit Union in Toronto), she was able to hire a coach and obtain access to training facilities. With the support of skiing coach Kurt Mayr, whom Yurkiw hopes to get accredited in time to join her for the Games, the opportunity to qualify for Sochi occurred after she earned a pair of top 12 finishes during the 2013-14 ski season. The second top 12 finish took place at Altenmarkt, where she finished sixth overall. Her first race at Sochi shall take place on February 9 as she competes in the Super Combined races.
Three days later will bring the downhill races, while February 15 presents Yurkiw with her last chance for a podium finish as she will participate in the Super G. As the last Canadian alpine skier to claim a medal was Edi Podivinsky at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, an opportunity to put an end to that drought would only add to Yurkiw’s already growing legend.
Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans throughout Canada, the native of Owen Sound, Ontario has even found new popularity on social media. Of note, Shelley Jackson has launched a new page on Facebook lobbying for Yurkiw to be Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Only adding to the grassroots support is a community flag at Owen Sound’s City Hall which residents are signing as a show of support and good luck for Yurkiw.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the fact that Yurkiw, a downhill and Super-G specialist, shall represent Canada, and not another nation, at the Games. Despite being the reigning Canadian champion in women’s downhill, a significant part of her training and preparation took part in Germany. Considering such factors, it would have been very tempting to refuse to compete for Canada. Such a decision is testament to the type of kind-hearted and sportsmanlike nature that she possesses.
Regardless of the outcome at Sochi, there is no denying that Yurkiw has the heart of a champion. From the view of many fans, she is already a gold medalist for having endured yet thrived under such difficult conditions. Although it can be a world with no multi-million dollar contracts or endorsements, Yurkiw has emerged as more than just one of Canada’s heroes heading into Sochi, but a role model and an example of what the human spirit can achieve.