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

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