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Games are swan song for luge pioneer Lauscher

By Terry Bell, Canwest News Service

WHISTLER — For the next two days, veteran luger Regan Lauscher of Red Deer, Alta., will try to enjoy every second she gets on the Whistler Sliding Centre track.

For Lauscher, who turns 30 on Feb. 21, the Vancouver Games are her swan song.

"These are my last runs," said Lauscher, who will cap her 16-year career with the two-day, four-run Olympic womens luge event on Monday and Tuesday. "Im going to try to soak it in and enjoy every split second, literally, out there.

"Im not sure if in life I will find a parallel feeling to this. Its been an amazing journey, especially these last four years that have been riddled with challenges and question marks and self doubt. I feel, looking back, that its a story worth telling. I made it through and to be here right now I feel privileged."

Lauscher has battled. Injuries. Shoulder surgeries have left her a little weaker than shed hoped to be at the Vancouver Games.

But perhaps no one has been helped raise the profile of the sport of luge in Canada.

Her successes — a World Cup silver medal six years ago in Lake Placid, N.Y. and a 10th-place finish in 2006 at the Turin Olympics — helped luge move to a place where its athletes at least had a chance to compete.

Shes taken them from the raggedy suits and the duct taped boots to a degree of respectability.

"Its like the chicken and the egg," said Tim Farstad, executive director of the Canadian Luge Federation. "She was able to get the results for us that showed Sport Canada and Own the Podium that we had the potential to (win medals).

"She had her best result ever with her silver medal in Lake Placid and that showed our sport, our organization, that we could do that.

"Until five years ago she was our only top woman. Now weve had an influx of women sliders and shes affected that. The young girls look up to her. Of course well miss her. It feels like were losing a member of the family."

Lauscher will savour every moment of these Games.

"Im proud to put on a Canadian suit and be here," she said. "Im proud to walk into the athletes village and the police men and guards and the people preparing our food, everybody is behind us and you feel that energy.

"Ending here, it couldnt be a better ending to a story like this. My family is here to support me. Canadians are the first to remind me that they are here to support me. Its fun."

It hasnt always been fun for Lauscher, as the Canadians, under-funded and overwhelmed, struggled to compete internationally. Now Lauscher is proud shes helped effect change.

"Canadians, were not a joke," she said. "Were competitors. People are looking at our finish times, theyre video taping us on the track and that was never the case before. Wed show up, hopefully with our sled in tact, and hope to cross the finish line twice.

"Its turned around and theres momentum being built. I look at the kids coming up and theyre unbelievably talented.

"I feel like I helped pave the way for Canadian luge. My few success and the progress I made against all odds and as a complete underdog has instilled some faith in little kids that maybe they didnt have before."

Lauscher has a journalism degree. She has wedding plans. Shes getting married in New York on Oct. 16. Her fiance, Landon Hollman, is coming in for her event.

The first thing Lauscher will do after it all ends is spend time with her family.

"I want to be with my family and give them hugs," she said.

But before that theres business to take care of.

"I want to be a competitor," she says. "I know Im human. Everybody is. I hope, whether I can come out on top or Im 10th or 20th or whatever, that I competed, that I grinded it out out there and I didnt hold back.

"Thats what racing is."

And that was her career.