Cross-country skiing is a tough workout for anyone.
“Walking” and poling, there is a little glide to help the skier cover ground quickly. There are the fun, but all-too-brief downhill runs. And then there are the heart-pumping hills.
Alpine skiers just shake their heads.
Joining activities like running and swimming, if cross-country skiing is not the best cardio workout, it’s in the conversation.
So, imagine doing it with arms alone, poling up steep inclines, and even to the top of a ski hill.
Maple Ridge’s Kevin Priebe is a sit-skier who does cross-country, with the goal of joining the national para-nordic team, and to complement his training as a sprint kayak competitor.
He’s trains at Cypress twice a week, getting ready for the sit-skiing nationals in Whistler at the end of March.
“I’m getting there,” he says. “There’s a steep learning curve when you first start.”
Not only must he build strength and endurance, but there is a lot of technical knowledge in both poling and learning to “read” snow conditions.
He has been competing in sprint kayaking for about the past four years, and trains regularly with the Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club on Alouette Lake.
Priebe competed in the Can-Am Games two years ago, and his goal is to compete in the Paralympic Games that will run in conjunction with the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
He needs to cover 200 metres in one minute and 16 seconds.
“I’m getting close to making my time standards.”
It keeps him busy. Priebe will finish the nationals in Whistler on March 30, and on April 1 he is off to Florida for kayak training camp.
“The two sports overlap really well.”
They also compare well in arm/shoulder workout and the cardiovascular endurance required. He’s anticipating that training at elevation for cross-country skiing will benefit him in the kayak.
Twenty years ago. When he was 18, Priebe was driving home from school, and was in a car accident just blocks from his house. It left him a T3 paraplegic, unable to use his muscles from the top of his chest down.
His coach, Tony Chin of Richmond, has coached Olympians. He estimates Priebe won’t be ready for that level of competition by the time the winter Games are held in Sochi, Russia in 2014, and says his best shot will be as a kayaker at the summer Olympics in Rio, 2016.
His athlete is a hard worker, and Chin describes how all of Priebe’s power must be generated by his arms and shoulders. If an able-bodied skier were to sit ski, their core muscles – their torso – would be engaged. Because Priebe’s injury is so high, he does not get the benefit of core strength.
What’s more, an able-bodied person’s muscles help their heart, as muscles contract and push blood back into the heart. Priebe’s cardiovascular system must compensate for the lack of these working muscles, so his heart pounds.
“He’s working way harder than we would if we sat in a chair and pulled ourselves up a hill,” said Chin.
The longest distance Olympic para-nordic course is 15 km, which takes athletes about an hour to cover.
Chin said one of the country’s best female sit skiers has an injury almost as high as Priebe’s.
“And Kevin’s a great athlete to coach,” said Chin. “He understands what’s involved, and he’s very dedicated.”
Priebe grew up in Pitt Meadows and moved to Maple Ridge as an adult, and is well known for his special effects work in the motion picture industry. He won a Leo Award, a provincial industry honour, for makeup and special effects in a Second World War film called The Remembrance. He is also the chairman of the Municipal Advisory Committee on Accessibility Issues for Maple Ridge.
Recently he left the film industry, and is pursuing a new businesses providing specialty wheelchairs and athletic competition equipment for disabled athletes.
It’s easier to sell something that you believe in, and he has experienced the benefits of paralympic sports personally.
“The effects of not being active can be dramatic,” he said. “Your quality of life can just go straight down.”
Priebe took a Skiing is Believing workshop, and was instantly a convert.
Paralympic sport feeds his soul.
He spends time in beautiful outdoor locations, feels the challenge of competition, and afterward socializes with his rivals.
“Being around everyone … we’re like an extended family. Even the guys who are in competition like to help each other.”
Like any cross-country skier he can cover a lot of ground in a short time, and training sessions take him beyond the range of traffic sounds, and away from other people.
“You can hear the snow falling,” he says. “It reminds of when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, when I used to go skiing.