VISIT FROM A CHAMPION Para-alpine ski champion Matt Hallat signs autographs for students at J.A. Laird Elementary. Members of the Canadian Para-alpine ski team came to speak to students about being an athlete with a disability. Photo by Kristian Rasmussen

By Kristian Rasmussen

Pioneer Staff

Rattling cowbells greeted the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team as the students of J.A. Laird Elementary gave them a medal-worthy welcome on Monday, February 20th. The team came to address a packed gymnasium about the importance of reaching your goals no matter what life hands you.

Matt Hallat, the reigning Canadian para-alpine champion in both slalom and giant slalom, shared his unique story to help inspire his young audience.

I lost my leg when I was five years old, Mr. Hallat told students. One day, I crawled out of my room because my leg hurt a lot and I couldnt really walk on it. My dad asked me, Whats wrong? We went to the doctor and found cancer in the bottom part of my leg.

When queried by a student as to how he is able to stand, Mr. Hallat responded, One thing we all have in common is that we spend a lot of time working very hard to stand up. Sometimes you get it the first time, but most of the time you dont. It takes a lot of time and practice to stand and make it all the way to the finish line.

Para-alpine athlete and Kimberley native Josh Dueck told students about the importance of never giving up on your goals, even when they seem out of reach.

I had an accident on the mountain. Just like everybody else here I never let my disability stop me, he said.

Mr. Dueck fell over 100 vertical feet after overshooting a ski jump in March 2004 feet, a mistake that broke his back and rendered him paralyzed from the waist down.

After his accident, Mr. Dueck went on to receive the 2011 Winter X Games mono-skier cross gold medal and, earlier this month, became the first-ever athlete to successfully complete a backflip in a sit ski.

The idea [of doing a backflip] was born in the hospital when I broke my back eight years ago, he said. I put the idea on the back burner and concentrated on racing. After 2010, I realigned my focus to doing the backflip.

Mr. Dueck still recalls the nervous anticipation of conquering the unknown, As soon as we had the date dialed in I freaked out. The consequences could be quite high if I did anything wrong. We made sure that we had the best possible environment: deep snow, perfect jump, and a safety crew on hand.

The athlete recounted to his eager listeners what he felt when he made the landing, It was shock. I was nearly drained. It was eight years of anticipation and working towards something.

The students were encouraged by the Kimberley local to follow his example and face their fears. Doing new stuff is cool, right? he told them. Its OK to be afraid, but it is also good to overcome your fears.

Staff at the school were delighted with the visit. The kids loved it, said Principal Jill Jensen. The fact that they are all lining up for autographs shows how excited they were.

Residents can come out to cheer on Canadas Para-Alpine Ski Team from March 13th-16th at the 2012 International Paralympic World Cup Ski finals at Panorama.