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Ski Racer “Spinach” Joins the IB Team

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My name is Mitch Gourley, and I’m stoked to say I’m Icebreaker’s newest athlete! Given my relative anonymity, I’ll take a few moments to introduce myself in this first blog.

At 18, I am the youngest member of the Australian Paralympic ski team and hence carry the obligatory list of nicknames that goes with this mantle. After enduring almost four years with an array of mostly food and height-related nicknames in multiple languages, I seem to be stuck with the moniker “Spinach”, along with its German counterpart, “Spinat”.

Beyond the incredibly serious business of nicknames lies the actual ski racing, both on the national team and in terms of my own preparations for the 2010 Winter Paralympics, to be held in Vancouver.

Following an interesting year – which included my first national championship, a full season on the world cup circuit and the world championships – I entered this Australian winter with high hopes.

In reality, my 2010 preparations began months ago, in the Victorian Institute of Sport gym, about three weeks after returning to Australia from the northern hemisphere winter. Following a disappointing world championships on a somewhat biased hill in Korea (I’ve seen steeper staircases!), I was on a quest to add some bulk to my scrawny 52kg frame.

Thanks to a fresh approach, some much-needed consistency and the eating program from hell, I managed to achieve more success in Australia than in Korea. I gained around 7kg and discovered that even eating, as appealing as it often may seem, can become a chore when done routinely 6-8 times a day.

Following some physical testing at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and unprecedented amounts of study in the lead-up to my dreaded mid-year exams, the snow began to fall in the mountains. It was with great anticipation that I embarked on my first trip to the Australian Paralympic Committee head offices in Sydney for a day of uniform fittings and team processing as a member of the shadow Paralympic team. It was pleasant to finally meet some of those responsible for the amazing funding and support I have received over the past few years.

From the palatial surrounds of our airport hotel, we departed in the small hours of the next morning to begin our on snow training for 2009 at Mt Hutt in New Zealand.

The happening town of Methven put on a show with two weeks of almost flawless weather and cold, hard snow – perfect for us ski racers. We were even treated to the rare privilege of having a pleasant bunch of Kiwis to train with, the national development team, as it were, headed up by former Aussie coach Mike Gould.

After enduring a month of the Kiwis and two weeks of us Aussies, I’m sure Methven was glad to get rid of us…only to find we’d all be back in September!

Returning home, I was greeted with an empty house as my mother had shot-through to follow the Tour de France for four weeks! As you do on your 50th birthday! However I was even more horrified to find that she’d taken off with some of my Icebreaker!

Following this devastating revelation I continued my studies for two whole days before departing for a slalom block at Falls Creek.  After returning from a week of good slalom – a rarity for me – I was greeted with my mid-year results for attendance and my only exam, chemistry. After setting a new record low for attendance, 53%, I was pleasantly surprised by an unexpected A for chemistry.

That will have to do me for now, as my flight has just been called. I’m off to Canberra for some more training at Thredbo and Perisher. After that I’ll be competing in the nationals, where I’ll endeavor to defend my GS title against three of the best skiers in the world – my teammates.

-  Mitch Gourley, Paralympian and Icebreaker athlete

Greetings from the Crown of Maine

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February is just six months away. While that may sound like a long time, to me it feels like it’s rapidly approaching.  I am right smack in the middle of my training season, doing my best to prepare myself to make the 2010 US Olympic biathlon team.

Training so far has been…wet. I can count the number of days is hasn’t rained on one hand. Thank goodness I don’t melt.

Truthfully, the cool, wet weather isn’t bad for training. I’ve spent all of July here at home in northern Maine, making the most of the two world-class training facilities at my disposal. My training has mostly consisted of rollerskiing and of course shooting, with a good amount of running and cycling mixed in there as well.

While I have enjoyed my time at home, training, working and playing in my garden, I am now packing for what feels like the start of the season. Tomorrow I’m off to Jericho in Vermont for rollerski races and a three-week training camp.

This camp will be followed by a brief few days at home before I’ll be packing for another training camp. I will be heading to Stelvio Pass in northern Italy to ski on a glacier for a couple of weeks to get some much need on-snow time before winter begins.

The ball just keeps rolling after that – home for one week, gone for another couple of weeks, back and forth until December! It’s almost scary how close we are to the first race of the season!

I have a lot more work to do from now until then, so I will continue to focus on the day in front of me. I’ll keep you posted with updates and photos from the road. Right now, I’d better go start packing!

-  BethAnn Chamberlain, 2010 US Olympic hopeful and Icebreaker athlete