The stakes are getting higher and the training is ramping up as Saskatchewan skiers prepare for their shot on the hill at the Canada Winter Games.
Regina Alpine Race Team head coach Gord Poulton stops each athlete as they fly down the slalom course at Mission Ridge, offering small changes and closely monitoring their speeds.
“You’re going to actually feel that gate. It’ll brush up your arm — that’s how tight I want you and Patrick to get.”
For Regina’s Joshua Schramm, it will be his first attempt at the podium — though he’s already faced much higher stakes.
“He was born at 23 weeks old,” his mother, Christina Schramm, recalled. “That was after three weeks of me in the hospital trying to stay pregnant. When he came into the world they said he had a less than five per cent chance of survival.”
After more than 150 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Schramm was able to go home — but he would grow up without sight.
Now 15 years old, he’s Saskatchewan’s only competitive blind para-alpine skier.
“I like skiing with the race team and being able to race,” Schramm said.
Over the past four years, he’s built a strong bond with his guide and teammate Patrick Young, a former Canada Winter Games athlete and current coach.
“When we started it was very different than it is now,” Young explained. “He was very timid and I was pretty terrified at the same time as well. He was the first blind skier I had ever seen.”
Young calls out instructions for Schramm as he skis just ahead of him, occasionally tapping his ski poles to give Schramm another sound reference.
The pair has travelled across Western Canada to compete and pursue Schramm’s Paralympic dreams.
“He has phenomenal balance ability and his hearing is just fantastic,” Poulton remarked. “He was able to quite quickly pick up the idea of skiing from his other sports. He skates, he bikes — those things transfer very well to skiing.”
Schramm plans to travel to Kimberley, B.C., for last-minute training before heading for the Nasiska Ski Resort for the Winter Games in February.
While the Mission Ridge team hopes to see him return with some hardware, passion remains at the forefront of his game.
“He is so graceful on skis,” Christina Schramm added. “When he’s walking around he’s crashing into things but when he comes down (the hill) it’s amazing.”