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.
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