This ‘Pros of Tomorrow’ series, brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports, aims to highlight some of the most notable up-and-coming athletes around the world, which may or may not be Fischer-sponsored skiers. If you have an idea for a top-notch skier you’d like to read more about, please email email@example.com with the subject line: ‘Pros of Tomorrow’. We’re also looking for stories about intriguing juniors, collegiate skiers, or lesser-known athletes; please email us with names — subject line: ‘From the Pack’.
Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt, 22, has been on skis as long as she can remember. Originally from Quebec’s Laurentides region, she started out on downhill skis until her parents deemed her “old enough to actually kick and glide,” she recalled. That was age 3.
Bouffard-Nesbitt went on to race for several nordic teams, including a training centre in western Canada before joining Rocky Mountain Racers (RMR) in 2013 in Canmore, Alberta.
Now readying for the 2014/2015 race season, she is in her last year as a U23 athlete. With experience competing overseas last winter, she’s a name to watch out for in North American ski racing and a likely candidate for Canada’s U23 World Championships and OPA tour. Last month, Petro-Canada named her its nordic-skiing recipient of its “Fuelling Athlete and Coaching Excellence” funding program.
Raised by Skiers
Although cross-country skiing in particular was an integral part of her childhood, Bouffard-Nesbitt enjoyed competing in several sports.
“As a kid, I was always really into sports and I knew I wanted to be an athlete,” she said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know what sport. It was either gonna be soccer, running or skiing.”
In her pre-teens, she played AA soccer, competed in both track and cross-country running and ski raced in the winter. But over the next few years her focus shifted more and more towards nordic skiing.
“I did Fast and Female when I was 14, so I got flown out to Canmore because I won a contest,” she explained. “They were flying two girls from every province to Canmore for this event. That was my first time out West and I got to meet Chandra Crawford, who was a celebrity to me at that point. That was super motivating and I was on a high from that for a really long time.”
Her inspiration from Fast and Female combined with the feeling that she was enjoying skiing the most out of all her sports prompted her to join the local Fondeurs Laurentides nordic team at 15. Two years later, she fully committed to skiing, leaving Quebec to train with coach Les Parsons in Edmonton, Alberta.
“I was at the end of high school in Quebec, I graduated and decided that my choices were to go to CEGEP [a general-and-vocational college] in Montréal, go to Nakkertok ski club in Gatineau or go to Edmonton,” she said. “I went to Edmonton because Les Parsons, who was coaching the [Edmonton Nordic] team at the time, invited me out there and found a family to host me.”
Having provided her with coaching advice in the past, Parsons positively influenced Bouffard-Nesbitt’s skiing and helped her overcome nerves in her earlier years of racing.
“He changed my way of thinking about competition,” she said. “He reminded me that, ‘You can’t do any better than your best’ and ‘If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in doing it.’ ”
After one year in Edmonton, Bouffard-Nesbitt decided it was time to make the next jump to one of Canada’s training centres and moved to Whistler to join the Callaghan Valley Training Centre (CVTC) in British Columbia.
“He changed my way of thinking about competition. He reminded me that, ‘You can’t do any better than your best’ and ‘If you’re not having fun, there’s no point in doing it.’ ” — Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt on former coach Les Parsons
Looking back, she described that first year with Callaghan Valley as an exciting one.
“I felt like it was my first time being on a … I don’t wanna say real ski team, a more professional ski team, you know?” she said. “We had a team van and we all lived in the same place and our coach would drive us around everywhere. It was the first time I’d had a car drive beside me while I’m rollerskiing.”
That winter of 2010/2011, she had what she considered her breakthrough year.
“It was the year that I won the aggregate [overall] at nationals and I’d never done that before,” she said. “I’d never even medaled before at nationals.”
The second year was a different story. It was the first time Bouffard-Nesbitt trained full time in the summer, having worked at a summer camp in past years. With the excitement from last season, she felt more pressure in year two.
“After seeing how the team performed that first year, [CVTC coach] Chris [Manhard] expected a lot from us the second year,” she said. “It had been his first year with the team also, so the second year he was getting more pressure to have the team perform. The atmosphere changed.”
Manhard respectfully declined to comment.
As many athletes can attest to, it is much easier to push through the pain during training than to know when it’s time to call it. By the fall of 2011, Bouffard-Nesbitt was beyond the point of no return. In mid-January 2012, she was unable to finish a 10 k skiathlon in Whistler. After that, she went home to Quebec.
“Once I finally stopped training, it was like my body registered that I was giving it a break and then it just completely shut down,” she said. “I went from struggling in training to having heavy legs walking up stairs and sleeping like 12 or 13 hours a day. A month was pretty much sleeping. I went six months without training.”
Bouffard-Nesbitt stayed home until August 2013, when she decided to get back into skiing with RMR and moved to Canmore.
“There was never one doubt in my mind about wanting to keep going,” she reflected. “People thought I had quit or that I was going to quit, but I had never ever considered it. To me, when it was happening, it was just, like, a blip. I didn’t think ‘this is the end of my career.’ I knew I was gonna get over it.”
The toughest thing she recalled was knowing that she was out of the running for the U23 World Championships team that year. But she remembered the words of her former coach.
“Another thing that Les would always tell me was to think long term,” she said. “He’d say, ‘This year doesn’t matter, next year doesn’t matter, what matters is 2018 if that’s what you’re aiming for.’ ”
After six months of rest, she got back into training 30 minutes at a time and worked her way up to 50-minute workouts. For months, it was her fatigued legs that held her back. Finally, in the fall of 2012, she broke the 50-minute mark.
“It was around Frozen Thunder that one day, I just magically passed that 50-minute threshold and finally I just felt good,” she said. “I skied for way longer and didn’t get tired legs and from then on I was good to go.”
After a few months of training with RMR, Bouffard-Nesbitt posted a top-10 sprint result at 2013 Canadian nationals in Whistler and finished 22nd overall on the NorAm circuit.
“There was never one doubt in my mind about wanting to keep going … I didn’t think ‘this is the end of my career.’ I knew I was gonna get over it.” — Bouffard-Nesbitt
Looking back on last season, Bouffard-Nesbitt has mixed feelings.
“I was really excited; I’d made trips I’d never made before, I qualified for Worlds, which was a really big goal of mine, and then I got selected for the B-tour,” she said.
All of that marked her first time racing against an international field and doing so in Europe.
At the same time, she was sick throughout the winter.
“My immune system was not super-strong and I just kept catching colds,” she said. “I caught a cold [at the start of the season] in Silver Star before Rossland. I got sick again right after trials — I was pretty sick that time. Basically I couldn’t go two weeks without getting sick.”
In Rossland, she pulled out a podium: third among the senior women. Other than that, she said she didn’t perform to her potential last season.
Currently Bouffard-Nesbitt is working towards her goal of making the upcoming U23 World Championships and, farther down the line, the Canadian World Cups in 2016 and the 2018 Olympics.
With RMR and her new home in Canmore, she thinks she’s in the right environment to achieve these goals.
When she’s not skiing or training, Bouffard-Nesbitt can be found working for Buff Canada.
“I got the job because my teammate Andrea [Dupont] works there,” she said. “They dropped me in charge of what they call the professional collection. It’s a new collection of Buffs intended for industrial workers that isn’t really sold in Canada yet, but we’re trying to get it in stores. I work there part time, it’s about 20 hours a week if I am in Canmore. The boss knew I was a skier and it kinda transformed into a sponsorship. I still work there and I am still in charge of the professional collection and I’m also sponsored by them.”
This past April, Bouffard-Nesbitt traveled with a number of high-profile Canadian skiers, including organizer and two-time Olympian Perianne Jones, to Nicaragua to help build a school.
“We realized after a couple days at the work site that the people at SchoolBOX saw just as much value in having outsiders come and play with the kids, rather than just, like, digging a hole the entire time,” Bouffard-Nesbitt said in an earlier interview. “It means a lot to the kids to see that people are coming all the way from Canada and that people care that much about their school.”
A Canadian cross-country ski racer with the Alberta World Cup Academy, Zeke spends most of his time in Canmore, Alberta, but calls Cantley, Quebec, his home. He thinks that you can learn a lot about a person from their goals — his is to ski really fast on the Winter Olympic race course in 2018. Find him on the web: http://ezekielwilliams.ca/ and on twitter: @zek3r