'I should contact this lady': How a chance conversation at Canadian Tire sent Brittany Hudak onto para-nordic sport success

    December 8, 2017

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    In this Feb. 11, 2014 file photo, Brittany Hudak (left) and Colette Bourgonje pose for a photo at Lake Louise, Alta.Leah Hennel / Postmedia Network

    Brittany Hudak was in the middle of a typical shift at a Canadian Tire store in Prince Albert, Sask., one day in January 2013 when she was approached by a stranger who would change her life.
     
    Hudak, who was born without part of her left arm, listened to the woman tell her about the Paralympic Games and the world of opportunities offered by para-sport.
     
    “She gave me some of her Paralympic cards and asked if I had heard about the Games and para-sport, and basically asked if I wanted to try cross-country skiing,” said Hudak, who was then 19.

    The random stranger was Colette Bourgonje, the first Canadian to win a Paralympic medal at Vancouver 2010. She competed in a total of 10 summer and winter Paralympics — in track and field and cross-country sit skiing — and won 10 medals.

    “At that time I wasn’t aware of the Paralympics,” Hudak said. “I really wasn’t aware there was more of an equal way for people with disabilities to compete, and maybe that’s why I had never taken sport to a high level. Because the best shot I had was running events, where my arm disability doesn’t affect me as much, so that’s where I could be on more of a level playing field.

    “But just the idea of actually getting to compete against other people with disabilities was more appealing.

    “I also feel that most people, if they are approached by some random stranger while they’re working, they would just ignore the gesture. But I remember going home that day and having that intuition feeling, like, ‘I should contact this lady. There is something more here. Maybe I should give skiing a try.’”

    She waited only a day, maybe two, before sending Bourgonje an email. Within a couple of weeks she was skiing with Sturgeon River Nordic, a local club. By December 2013 she had qualified to compete at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.

    "It was a big shock,” she said, “because I didn’t even realize I had potential to qualify.”
    She and Bourgonje devised a training plan. Hudak cut back on shifts at Canadian Tire, balanced university studies in social work with training six days a week, and committed herself to sport.