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Who to Cheer for...

Calgary Herald
Published: Thursday, February 12, 2009

Regan Lauscher's first time on a luge run was not one for the record books. Except that it could well have been the day that this two-time Olympian, World Cup Silver medallist and six-time Canadian champion swore never to climb onto the sled again.

She was 14 at the time, and was encouraged by her band teacher in her home town of Red Deer to give the sport a try. "It was on a natural luge track on the toboggan hill." Down she went, into a fence, into an ambulance, and into the hospital. "It was atrocious."

It took three years for her to give the sport another chance, this time at her brother'surging. She braved the luge run again, this time in Calgary, and there was no looking back. Now she's looking ahead to Vancouver, and hoping that Canada's medal drought in women's luge will end in 2010.

"The Germans are the ones to beat, and they know it." She says competition is generally good-natured, and competitors often become friends by the end of the racing season. But because the German women have traditionally been so strong, often sweeping the podium, "Everyone is rooting for anybody who can beat the Germans."

Lauscher came very close to being the first international athlete to beat the Germans in more than a decade at the 2004 Lake Placid World Cup. As she sat in the start handles for her second run, Lauscher was actually in first place. It all came down to a few fractions of a second, and although the gold went to a German, Lauscher made history by becoming the first Canadian female athlete to win a World Cup silver medal in luge.

A Journalism graduate from Mount Royal College, Lauscher expects to move on in her career path once the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are done. But she will end on a high note, just by being part of the most promising women's luge team in Canadian history.

"I feel blessed and grateful that I have the chance to be there, and that Canadians still support me." It will be an emotional experience for Lauscher to have her final Olympic chance at home in Canada. "The support from Canadians who came down to Salt Lake City [in 2002] was indescribable. I can only imagine what Vancouver will be like." Each Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has its unforgettable stories. There are the "firsts" - speed records, distance records, the first landing of a difficult jump. There are tales of adversity overcome by athletes despite incredible odds. And of course, good old-fashioned stories of hard work and determination.

Brian McKeever, a Calgary-born cross country skier based in Canmore, is determined to be on Canada's Olympic team in Vancouver. McKeever is also legally blind.

He began skiing at a young age, and was encouraged to aim high by his older brother Robin, a member of Canada's 1998 Olympic cross country team at Nagano, Japan.

At age 18, the younger McKeever's sight began to deteriorateduetoan inherited condition called Stargardt's disease, his peripheral vision is good, but straight on he sees nothing but "a fuzzy blob."

The usual competitive path for a skier with a disability is the Paralympic Winter Games. McKeever's done that with a combined four gold, two silver and a bronze medal in previous Paralympic Games in Torino and Salt Lake City. He's continued his success, most recently winning two gold medals in January at the International Paralympic Committee World Cup in Vuokatti, Finland.

In each race, McKeever is guided by his brother Robin. "He goes in front and makes the lines. We settle on a good race pace. If something happens -somebody falls down, or he steps into a new track-he lets me know." He tries to commit the course to memory the day before the race, but weather and trail conditions can change quickly. Despite such challenges, McKeever made history in 2007 by competing in the regular Cross Country Ski World Championships, placing an impressive 24th.

He credits the facilities at Canmore for his success. "That legacy facility is very important, and it's the reason why more of the best skiers are coming out of our part of the world."

McKeever's next challenge is to make the regular 2010 Canadian team. If he does, he will only be the second Olympian to ever compete in both the regular Olympics and Paralympics. Yet for McKeever, "It's not a huge deal. You just want to compete against people who are better."

Whether it's the Olympics or the Paralympics, he'll definitely compete at 2010 and he's excited about Vancouver's approach. "I don't think the public understands how highthe level of competition is for the Paralympics. In Vancouver they're promoting the two events as one single Games. That's the first time it's ever happened that way. The Vancouver show will be second to none."

© The Calgary Herald 2009