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  Georgia Simmerling goes from skiing to the velodrome as she chases selection for third Olympic Games  
  April 30th 2016  
   Photo: Georgia Simmerling/Instagram  
  Canadian Georgia Simmerling has competed at two Olympic Games in two different sports. 2010 in Vancouver at a home Olympic games in Alpine skiing. Then Sochi 2014 in Ski Cross. Now the 27 year old has her eye on competing at a third Olympic Games in a third sport in 2016 in Rio.

It has been less than two years since Simmerling first rode on the track as part of a talent ID camp but the past twelve months have seen her switch from the ski slopes to the velodrome as she chases selection in the team pursuit. Despite her limited experience Simmerling has already competed at the top of the sport.

Following a Canadian title in the team pursuit in October last year, she claimed gold on her international debut at the Hong Kong World Cup in January. With a silver medal at the World Championships in London in March following soon after. While the Canadian team for the Olympics is still to be selected, Simmerling's success to date indicates the switch to the track has been well worth the work.

In part one of a two part interview Georgia Simmerling covers the ups and downs of Ski Cross including five World Cup podiums as well as serious injuries including a broken back and neck. Being the racer to beat at the World Championships before a crash in her final training run, her first experiences on the velodrome and her immediate love of the track.

Growing up were you always in to sport? What sports did you play?

I grew up in a very active family, having three older brothers to chase and keep up to. Sports were a common factor in our daily life. I played pretty much every sport I could: field hockey, soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, ski racing. I played competitive soccer and baseball the longest while I ski raced until I had to make a decision to focus my energy into one sport.

What does it mean to be a two time Olympian in two different sports?

That title doesn't mean much to me. Sure, I'm extremely proud of achieving those goals, but to me what it is more important than some title is being passionate about what you do every day. Being an athlete has unique challenges that other professions don't have. You have to love, or learn to embrace pushing yourself to the physical limits that are simply a baseline requirement to be successful athlete. Among so many other lifestyle qualities that come with being an elite athlete, you have to love the every day grind. If that loves disappears, I think an athletic career will be very short. I genuinely love what I do, and am grateful every day for what I do. Representing your country, inspiring people, what more can you ask for?

Back in 2012 you broke your back and neck and returned to the skis just two months later. After the accident was there ever any doubt in your mind about returning to the sport?

No, there was never any doubt. The rehab from that injury forced me to be so strong mentally every minute of every day. I didn't see it as a choice, I simply committed to having a positive mind frame during that rehab, and I healed remarkably fast with zero residual pain from my back or neck. I had such a clear vision for myself, and that was to heal as quick as I can and get back on my skis doing what I love.

While competing in Ski Cross at the highest level you decided you needed a cross trainer and first tried rowing what happened there?

During my injury of my neck, for some crazy reason it came to me that I wanted to see if I could be a summer athlete as well as a winter athlete. I told myself why not, give it a shot, what's the worst that could happen, you don't make it? I wanted to be on a team sport. There were two sports that came to mind, cycling and rowing. So I contacted Rowing Canada, and I rowed for two summers while still doing Ski Cross. Rowing Canada was interested in developing me further but insisted I commit 100% to its program. I was nowhere close to being ready to stop skiing, so I put my oars away.

What made you decide to try cycling?

My goal of being a summer athlete was still very alive when I stopped rowing, entering the 2013/2014 winter season. The Ski Cross program director at the time told me he'd bet I'd be pretty strong at biking, knowing my data from my fitness testing scores I had done for years on a stationary bike.

Your first time on the track was June 2014 in LA for a talent ID camp heading in what did you know about the sport and what were you expecting?

I knew nothing at all about track cycling. I heard a few words of advice from people heading into that camp, "don't stop pedalling". And I never have (I just knocked on wood).

Following the camp was that when you decided you wanted to focus more on cycling?

After those first five days in LA at the track of learning how to ride a track bike, I was hooked. I knew this would be my new sport.

Simmerling's first track racing at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center

You did some racing in the US in 2014 in sprint events your first experience racing on the track how did it go?

I had a blast in Pennsylvania with the sprint development team. I was thrown into match sprinting and the keirin with World Champions and Olympians; the entire Dutch women's sprinting program was there. It felt like a mean joke to me that I was having to race against these world class racers, and I remember it made me mad. I didn't have a clue of what I was doing. Of course it wasn't going to go well for me. After a few nights of racing I remember asking what a scratch, points and elimination race was. Then I just got more confused about this new sport. I was sure of one thing though, as oppose to the sprinting thing I was having to do, track endurance looked like a lot more fun. I wanted to ride my bike more than half a lap around the track. By the end of the three weeks, after asking my coaches almost every night of racing when I wouldn't move on in the sprint rounds, they finally told me I was safe enough to enter a scratch race. And it was hard. I was on a rental bike that didn't fit me, I knew nothing, and I was inefficient. Surprisingly enough I finished all right, thank you to my ski legs, and even left that night earning my race entry fees back! I was stoked.

You returned to the slopes for the 2015 Ski Cross season picking up two podiums before you shattered your wrist ending the season how did the recovery go?

After training and racing on the track, I was getting back on my skis for the upcoming winter season. I was sad to suddenly stop something I had fallen in love with, and yet I remember being pretty stoked to get back into skiing, something I knew how to do well. It felt good. We like things we're good at. New is often hard, and shows our vulnerability. I had a really solid fall prep of ski cross in 2014 for the 2014/2015 season. I felt strong. I had my best fitness testing scores too, pbing in a lot of the tests we do. A big part of that strength was from riding my bike as much as I did that summer. I entered that season with a new confidence, a confidence that I had carried from the end of the season before where I had back-to-back podiums in the last two World Cups. I kept that going and podiumed in the first two World Cups of the season. It felt amazing. I had won all the training runs and the qualifying run leading into World Championships that season. I was the one to beat on the day of racing. In the last training run before the race, I misjudged my speed off a jump and soared into the air, over the safety netting, landing hard on my wrist. My day at World Champs was over before it had even begun. I was deflated, completely heartbroken, and just mad.

Like all of my rehabs, this one was no different and I healed remarkably fast, gaining my wrist strength back in record time. I attribute the power of positive thinking to all my rehabs and can't say enough about it. I see two options with every rehab, and that is choosing to wallow in your pain and depression that you're on the couch instead of being with your teammates, or you can choose to suck it up, and do everything that you possibly can to heal as quick as you can. The first two weeks of my rehab were definitely tough, any movement whatsoever to my wrist was excruciatingly painful. But, I was in the same pain on the couch as I was on the bike, so I thought why not get a work out in. Blood flow promotes healing, and since my ski cross season was over, I was committing everything to this new chapter.

Having competed in two sports at the top level are there any big differences between Ski Cross and cycling in terms of support and funding athletes receive?

People kept on telling me why are you getting into track cycling? There's no money in the sport. I heard that line so many times. I wasn't doing it for the money. I don't think any Canadian elite athlete is doing what they do because of the money. And if they are, good luck. That is all I have to say about that. I kept on thinking how funny that was that people kept telling me that. I didn't care about the money. Having now seen a glimpse of track and road racing at the world class level, it is actually appalling to me at how little money there is in women's cycling in general compared to men's. I have never seen such glaring sexism in terms of equality in sport as I have in cycling.

You have claimed five World Cup medals in Ski Cross and been ranked as high as two in the world was it difficult to miss the last Ski Cross season as you focused on the track?

There were definitely some moments throughout this winter where my heart truly missed being on a mountain and feeling that adrenalin rush surge through your body hitting a big kicker jump for the first time. I reminded myself every time I felt sad or a little down about not being on my skis that Ski Cross isn't going anywhere. I'm coming back to this sport that really excites me more than anything. What always trumped these moments of winter reflection were also my immediate goals and love for this new challenge I am immersed in.
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