To Russia with love

Lyndon Rush (right) during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.

Lyndon Rush (right) during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.

Former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Bobsleigh Canada sees U of S football and track and field programs as fertile recruiting ground, with three former Huskie athletes competing in men’s bobsleigh.

Two U of S alumni will be competing in the Paralympic Games—one for the first time, the other for the tenth.

One alumnus will be wearing his familiar black and white instead of red and white as a hockey referee.

We were able to catch-up with a few of our Olympic and Paralympic participants to get their thoughts on their time at the U of S and the upcoming games.

Read more:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Graeme Rinholm , BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, men’s para-alpine skiing

Olympic Profile: Lyndon Rush

Lyndon Rush, pilot of Canada 1 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.

Lyndon Rush, pilot of Canada 1 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton.

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is bobsledder Lyndon Rush (BA’04).

During his time at the U of S, the Humboldt, Sask. native was a conference all-star defensive end for the U of S Huskies football team. He was initially recruited by Bobsleigh Canada as a potential brakeman. A hamstring injury led to training as a driver instead.

Rush emerged as the new leader of the Canadian men’s bobsleigh program in 2009-10 season after winning World Cup gold medals in both the two- and four-man events. He won an Olympic bronze medal in the four-man event at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Rush and teammate Jesse Lumsden won the overall World Cup two-man title in 2012-13.

UofS: Describe your first day on campus.
LR: I grew up as a Huskies fan, and I went to the U of S because of football. So I came to campus before school started, for training camp, and I remember I was sort of in awe to be part of the team. It was a real honour, and training camp was a great atmosphere.

UofS: What is your favourite or most memorable moment at the U of S?
LR: Going to the Vanier Cup in 2002. We went on a real run in the playoffs that year. In that game there was a punt blocked, and I recovered it and ran it back about 55 yards. It was the only time I got the ball in my entire career.

UofS: Did you have a favourite hangout as a student?
LR: Marquis Hall. The volume of food was very good, but I’m not so sure about the quality.

UofS: What was the best place to get food on campus?
LR: Marquis Hall.

UofS: Did you have a favourite place on campus to unwind?
LR: In the campus club rooms in the basement of the student union building for Bible study with Campus Crusade for Christ.

UofS: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
LR: I always say a prayer before every race with my teammates. I lead the guys in a prayer, and whether that part of their life is important to them or not, it helps us all calm down, take a look at the bigger picture and puts you in a good state of mind to perform well.

UofS: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
LR: My rookie season with the Huskies in 1999. I didn’t get a lot of playing time as a rookie, and we were the underdogs playing UBC in BC for the Hardy Cup. We beat them that game, and that is my most memorable victory. That was a transition phase for me, from being a fan to part of the team; it was such an emotional victory.

UofS: What are you most looking forward to in Sochi?
LR: Hitting the ice. I love racing bobsled. I love the competition. That’s why we’re all going, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.

UofS: Do you have any advice for U of S students today?
LR: I’m a big fan of the U of S and the province of Saskatchewan. It produces a lot of special people and has a special community feel to it. So be proud of that community.

UofS: Do you have any advice for aspiring young athletes?
LR: Have fun. Sport needs to be fun; that’s why we do it. Don’t lose sight of that.

Follow Lyndon Rush on Twitter: @goldrush781

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Graeme Rinholm, BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, men’s para-alpine skiing
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey

Olympic Profile: Colette Bourgonje

Colette Bourgonje on the podium to receive a silver medal at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver. Photo by Kevin Bogetti-Smith.

Colette Bourgonje on the podium to receive a silver medal at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver. Photo by Kevin Bogetti-Smith.

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is para-nordic cross-country skier Colette Bourgonje (BSPE’84, BEd’85).

Making the shift to wheelchair racing from cross-country running after a car accident caused a spinal cord injury came relatively quickly. Expanding into cross-country sit-skiing took more than ten years. Bourgonje has found success in both, being one of the few athletes to have won medals—an impressive 10—in both summer and winter Paralympic Games.

Sochi will be Bourgonje’s tenth, and most likely last, games in more than two decades of Paralympic competition.

Olympic Year Location Medals
2010 Vancouver, Canada 1 silver, 1 bronze
2006 Torino, Italy 2 bronze
2002 Salt Lake City, USA
2000 Sydney, Australia
1998 Nagano, Japan 2 silver
1996 Atlanta, USA 2 bronze
1994 Lillehammer, Norway
1992 Barcelona, Spain 2 bronze
1992 Tignes-Albertville, France

Now a teacher in Prince Albert, Sask., Bourgonje is a member of the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame, and you may recognize her name on street signs while driving in the Silverspring area of Saskatoon.

UofS: Describe your first day on campus.
CB: I was very new to a wheelchair as well as campus. It’s very beautiful, and I appreciated the Bowl area and the amazing architecture. I’ve been to many university campuses, and the U of S campus is definitely one of the nicest.

UofS: What is your favourite or most memorable moment at the U of S?
CB: Heading up to Marquis Hall in a 50 pound wheelchair was interesting. I thought, “Wow! I gotta head up these three ramps to get to lunch?” The chair was heavy and the ramp seemed steep. But the food was great; we had an amazing choice, and mealtimes always included great conversations. And getting from education to phys. ed. in 10 minutes between classes was sometimes interesting during winter; it became part of my training. There weren’t as many curb-cuts in the sidewalks as there are now.

UofS: Did you have a favourite hangout as a student?
CB: The Biology Building. It was a bit different then, but I spent a lot of time there studying.

UofS: What was the best place to get food on campus?
CB: Marquis Hall or the crepe place in Place Riel.

UofS: Did you have a favourite place on campus to unwind?
CB: No, not really. I was too bound-up on coffee to unwind. And I spent most of my spare time studying or training.

UofS: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
CB: Not really. Prior to the 2010 games my dog past away—he was 16 1/2 and had cancer, so we had to put him down. I taped a lock of his fur and a lucky loonie to my sit ski, and my silver medal was the first [medal] for Canada at those games. So that was pretty special. But I don’t think rituals or superstitions help you perform better.

UofS: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
CB: Carrying the flag in Nagano was pretty amazing. In Vancouver, I was shocked to get Canada’s first medal, and getting the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award was an honour.
(Editor’s note: The Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, given at the closing ceremonies, recognizes elite athletes with a disability that have demonstrated an exceptional level of determination to overcome their adversities through sport and the Paralympic Games.)

UofS: What are you most looking forward to in Sochi?
CB: I’m in a bit of a mentorship role for these games with [teammate] Brittany [Hudak]. She’s the youngest member of the team, and I’m the oldest. We’ve been living and training together to be as prepared as we can be. I’m looking forward to her having a great games experience.

UofS: Do you have any advice for U of S students today?
CB: Find a passion, whether that’s work, or education or a hobby you really enjoy. The broad perspective an education gives you helps keep an open view and open mind for all the opportunities out there.

UofS: Do you have any advice for aspiring young athletes?
CB: Keep an open mind. Take all the advice you can use from different people offering different perspectives and advice. Keep your ears and your mind open, and you’ll find the right path.

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Graeme Rinholm , BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, men’s para-alpine skiing
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey

Olympic Profile: Brad Meier

NHL referee Brad Meier during a game with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sydney Crosby (87)

NHL referee Brad Meier during a game with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sydney Crosby (87)

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is NHL referee Brad Meier (BSPE’91, BEd’92), who will be keeping his familiar black and white uniform.

Top-tier judges, officials and referees in their respective sports play an important role in international competitions, especially in the intense spotlight of the Olympics.

Meier, who currently calls Calgary, Alta. home, is one of seven NHL referees named to the international crew of 28 officials for men’s hockey, which includes referees and linesmen.

Refereeing hockey since he was 12 years old, Meier made the switch from amateur to professional in 1999. Career highlights include officiating at two Memorial Cups, a World Junior Championship, multiple Stanley Cup playoffs and the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.

UofS: Describe your first day on campus.
BM: I spent the better part of my childhood in Saskatoon, so I was familiar with campus. The more overwhelming part for me was the number of people my age all in the same place at the same time with the same pursuits, goals and desires.

UofS: What is your favourite or most memorable moment at the U of S?
BM: I really enjoyed the community in physical education. The college was smaller; we knew each other, and I really enjoyed the small town atmosphere in the college. I’m proud of my U of S degrees.

UofS: Did you have a favourite hangout as a student?
BM: Place Riel and the old pool hall seemed to take up a fair bit of my time. It was a good place for me and my buddies, who were all in different colleges, to connect and meet up for lunch or a ride home.

UofS: What was the best place to get food on campus?
BM: It was always good to have fries with your beer at Louis’. But I lived close enough to campus I went home most of the time.

UofS: Did you have a favourite place on campus to unwind?
BM: The Bowl when the weather was nice. It was good to get outside, see the different buildings and lounge, and waste a couple hours.

UofS: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
BM: Not really, it’s more about timing and preparation. I get to the rink about 90 minutes early to warm up, stretch out and talk with the other officials about any previous incidents between the teams.

UofS: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
BM: There are a few: my first NHL game, my first playoff game—those are certainly highlights because they are a measure of success. I got to work an all-star game; that was fun and it was great to have my family there. I got to go to Prague years ago for some games early in the season. Probably it’s the ability to see some places I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.

UofS: What are you most looking forward to in Sochi?
BM: The Olympic experience itself will be fantastic. I’m going in with an open mind. I don’t know what to expect about transportation, accommodation, the rinks, etc. It’s the experience of a lifetime. It will be fast paced with the best hockey players in the world. I have to be careful not to be lulled into being a fan.

UofS: Do you have any advice for U of S students today?
BM: Pursue what you want to pursue, and don’t let others tell you otherwise. My time at the U of S was part of the building blocks for me to become a referee in the National Hockey League. Enjoy the experience, and use it to your advantage in life.

UofS: Do you have any advice for aspiring young referees or officials?
BM: The difficult part is the first few years because of crazy hockey parents. So stick with it, and don’t give up. The experience is worth it; officiating at a higher level is worth it.

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Graeme Rinholm , BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, men’s para-alpine skiing

Olympic Profile: Graeme Rinholm

Graeme Rinholm, member of Canada 2 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Graeme Rinholm, member of Canada 2 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is bobsledder Graeme Rinholm (BSc’10).

While attending the U of S, Rinholm, from Medicine Hat, Alta, was a member of the Huskies track and field team, successfully balancing his studies and sprinting as a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Academic All-Canadian.

After an horrific crash in Germany in November 2011, Rinholm returned to competition in 2012 as a member of Canada 2 on the World Cup circuit.

Rinholm’s plans are to continue his education—after pursuing his Olympic dreams.

We were unable to reach Graeme for comments.

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, para-alpine skiing
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey

Olympic Profile: Ben Coakwell

Ben Coakwell, member of Canada 2 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Ben Coakwell, member of Canada 2 bobsleigh team. Photo provided by Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is bobsledder Ben Coakwell (BSc’10).

Running seems to come naturally for Coakwell. He played running back for the U of S Huskies football team, leading the team in rushing and scoring for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He also ran 60 and 200 meter sprints as a member of the Huskies track and field team.

Recruited by Bobsleigh Canada in 2012, the Moose Jaw, Sask. native is competing in his first World Cup season this year and his first Olympics in Sochi.

UofS: Describe your first day on campus.
BC: I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. And also pretty hungry, which is usually what happens when I get nervous.

UofS: What is your favourite or most memorable moment at the U of S?
BC: Playing in the Vanier Cup that the U of S hosted in 2006. We lost, but the energy from that game and the fans will be something I will never forget.

UofS: Did you have a favourite hangout as a student?
BC: The PAC [Physical Activity Complex]. I used to work there, and many of my classes were there. It was a close walk to the football field, and many of the people I knew were around there.

UofS: What was the best place to get food on campus?
BC: Sushi. I ate there often, mostly because I could smash a lot of it, which is fairly important to keep weight on.

UofS: Did you have a favourite place on campus to unwind?
BC: The Bowl. I liked to relax a bit outside and watch people walk by. I would try to guess their major.

UofS: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
BC: I try not to have superstitions. I believe my ability dictates my performance, not some random ritual. I do however wear the same tights for every race because they are the most comfortable. I always do a mental drill of visualizing myself performing.

UofS: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
BC: Winning a pee wee hockey provincial title. I was just this little kid filled with dreams of being a big hockey star, and it was the most fun.

UofS: What are you most looking forward to in Sochi?
BC: Testing myself. I have always wanted to test my ability on the biggest stage possible, and I have that opportunity. I am anxious to see how I respond.

UofS: Do you have any advice for U of S students today?
BC: Discipline and hunger. I use hunger to drive me to success. Even when I have achieved my goals, I maintain the hunger to go beyond that. This can be applied to most things in life including your studies. You owe it to yourself. Small amounts of discipline go a long way. That extra hour of studying or making it to class on time, for example.

UofS: Do you have any advice for aspiring young athletes?
BC: No matter what sport it is, and how talented you believe yourself to be, keep working towards greatness. The cliché of hard work exists for a reason, and I am a walking example of that. I would not be where I am today if I didn’t believe in myself and my willingness to work harder than anyone I came across.

Follow Ben Coakwell on Twitter: @bencoakwell or on Facebook: facebook.com/ben10speed

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Graeme Rinholm, BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Kurt Oatway, BSc’10, para-alpine skiing
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey

Olympic Profile: Kurt Oatway

Kurt Oatway, Canadian para-alpine skier. Photo provided by Pentaphoto/Alpine Canada.

Kurt Oatway, Canadian para-alpine skier. Photo provided by Pentaphoto/Alpine Canada.

Six former University of Saskatchewan students are trading in Huskies green for maple leaf red as they head to Sochi, Russia representing Canada at the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.

One of those individuals is para-alpine skier Kurt Oatway (BSc’10).

Oatway, originally from Edmonton, Alta., started alpine skiing at the age of five. He later took a break from competitive racing to focus on his education—which led him to the U of S.

During a university field trip to Utah, USA to study sedimentary environments, he fell 12 meters off a rock outcrop and suffered a spinal cord injury.

Watching the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver motivated Oatway to take up skiing again. He started training on a sit-ski and was subsequently invited to train with the Canadian national team—which has paid off with a spot on the Paralympic alpine team heading to Sochi.

UofS: Describe your first day on campus.
KO: I knew what I was getting into because I took some university classes in Calgary, but the U of S is a larger and nicer campus. The first building I went into was the Geology Building. T-Rex and triceratops fossils, and the whole natural sciences area there, was something I had never seen before on a university campus. It was educational and surprising to see that investment in the building.

UofS: What is your favourite or most memorable moment at the U of S?
KO: Playing intermural hockey with the Ore Gangue. Field schools with geology. And the beer gardens in the Bowl were always nice.

UofS: Did you have a favourite hangout as a student?
KO: The Ore Gangue lounge on the second floor of the Geology Building.

UofS: What was the best place to get food on campus?
KO: I usually brought lunch to save money. Every once in a while I would sneak into the residence cafeteria.

UofS: Did you have a favourite place on campus to unwind?
KO: The Geology Library. I spent 80 – 90 per cent of my time in that building, and there was always a quiet place to read or use a computer or find a small corner to fall asleep on a desk.

UofS: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
KO: My coaches tell me I have a habit of over-thinking things, so I don’t try to think about anything or do anything; just stretch a little bit. I don’t tap my skis three times or anything like that.

UofS: What is your most memorable moment in sport?
KO: I’m most proud of my recent fourth place finish in Panorama in my first World Cup downhill. It wasn’t my best result, but it’s the race I’m most proud of.

UofS: What are you most looking forward to in Sochi?
KO: Fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. The spirit of the games and the best competing against the best is being overshadowed a bit by people blasting Russia about human rights, over-spending, corruption and exploiting wildlife. None of that has anything to do with why athletes go to the games. I’m going because it’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a child.

UofS: Do you have any advice for U of S students today?
KO: Decide what you want to do and stick with it. If your priorities change, follow your gut. Don’t let naysayers get you down or tell you you can’t do something.

UofS: Do you have any advice for aspiring young athletes?
KO: Don’t let negative things or situations get in the way of what you love. When I broke my back, there was a little while I thought, “What the hell am I going to do now?” Pick yourself up and keep doing what you want to do.

Follow Kurt Oatway on Twitter: @KOatway or on on his blog: koatway.blogspot.com

Read more about former U of S students heading to Sochi:
Lyndon Rush, BA’04, men’s bobsleigh
Ben Coakwell, men’s bobsleigh
Graeme Rinholm , BSc’10, men’s bobsleigh
Colette Bourgonje, BSPE’84, BEd’85, women’s para-nordic cross-country skiing
Brad Meier, BSPE’91, BEd’92, referee, men’s hockey