MONTREAL – Frédérique Turgeon has dealt with heartbreak in her life. At the personal level. At the competitive level.
You’d never know it by her demeanor. But we all do, because she is willing to share those experiences, ones that many others have gone through in their lives – the loss of a parent at a young age, the triumphs and disappointments one can experience in a career on and off the playing field.
At the ParaTough Cup in Montreal earlier this month, a fundraiser for the Paralympic Foundation of Canada, the 23-year-old Para alpine skiing star shared those thoughts during a chat with event participants.
In the last four years, her world has been rocked by the death of her biggest supporter, her father, and an injury that occurred 48 hours before her first race at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.
“I know I’m a resilient athlete,” she said about her ability to overcome challenges.
In early 2019, Turgeon appeared headed for stardom in the world of Para alpine skiing. A year after making her Paralympic debut in PyeongChang, she secured her first World Cup win, three world championships medals, and the season-ending Crystal Globe slalom title.
Then COVID hit. Then injuries. The 2022-23 season will be a reboot of sorts for Turgeon. She wants a full season without interruption and to regain that magic that made her a podium regular.
Earlier this year, Turgeon was two days from skiing at the Paralympic Games in Beijing when injury struck. In a downhill training run she crashed badly, flying at 90 kilometres an hour into the safety nets. She tore her left quadricep muscle and just hours before race time, her Games was over.
“I cried a lot in the ambulance,” admitted Turgeon. “But that was it. I had to move on. It was the worst injury of my career at the worst moment. But no bones were broken, it could have been a lot worse. I feel I’ve come out lucky.”
The good news is that the leg injury in Beijing has not caused any delays in her normal preparations for the upcoming season. She attended training camps this summer in Chile and B.C.
“The biggest difference right now is I get tired more quickly, but that’s pretty normal,” said Turgeon. “As my quad is rebuilding, it can’t take the pressure it had before. I have to make sure I manage it properly.”
Turgeon wears a prothesis when she walks and initially competed in Para sports on both legs before a crash broke her leg in late 2013. She then adapted to skiing on one leg. In 2016, she made her World Cup debut in Austria.
She was born with a congenital femoral deficiency in her right leg, which is 50 per cent shorter than the left.
On her injury comeback, she has already crossed that barrier of barreling down the slopes at break-neck speeds in training this year. Of course, that first attempt in Chile two months ago remains memorable.
“It was bizarre,” she admitted. “I didn’t expect I was going to have a weird feeling. I was a little scared and in brake mode. But after three downhills it was back to normal. Since then we’ve had a camp in Canada and another in Chile. I have a month of skiing in me and that’s the amount you want to have heading into a season.”
Canada’s Para alpine skiing team will start its season in December with a World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
And in a sport full of twists and turns, both literally and figuratively, Turgeon now hopes to find stability through to the end of the winter.