HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
Sport: Para Alpine Skiing
Category: Guide for Mac Marcoux, Men’s Visually Impaired
Local Club: Mont-Tremblant
By Martin Cleary
BEIJING BOUND: Mac Marcoux is only 24 years old, but his list of achievements as a visually-impaired, para alpine skier spans more than a decade and ranks as phenomenal.
A year after winning the giant slalom silver medal as a 15-year-old at the 2013 world championships in La Molina, Spain, Marcoux took the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games by storm with sighted-guide and brother Billy Joe Marcoux, racing to gold in the GS and bronze in both the downhill and super-G.
At the 2017 world championships in Tarvisio, Italy, Marcoux and new sighted-guide Robin Femy swept the top four gold medals in his class – downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom – and added a silver in the super combined. The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games also were a success as he skied to gold in the downhill and bronze in the giant slalom.
After missing the entire 2018-19 season because of a ruptured disc, he won his eighth consecutive race (a giant slalom) in an undefeated World Cup season on Jan. 23, 2020, at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia with sighted-guide Tristan Rodgers of Ottawa. It also was his 31st career World Cup victory.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the International Paralympic Committee scratched the remainder of the 2019-20 season and cancelled the 2020-21 season. During the past two seasons, Marcoux also has faced knee surgery and a back injury.
So, when the brave and determined Marcoux enters the start hut for the opening men’s visually-impaired downhill race on Saturday (Friday night in Ottawa) at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, it will be his first race in more than 25 months.
Can Marcoux realistically expect to follow in his own ski tracks from past Paralympic Winter Games and world championships, and carve out more downhill, giant slalom and super-G medals? This scenario has the potential to emerge as the greatest accomplishment of his lengthy golden run as a para alpine skier.
Rodgers, who was accepted as Marcoux’s third sighted guide in the fall of 2018 and has a high degree of respect for his teammate, believes the time away from the world of international skiing won’t hurt Marcoux.
“He won’t be going in cold,” Rodgers said emphatically during a phone interview before flying to Beijing and then travelling to the Xiaohaituo Alpine Skiing Field.
“We’re ready, after a productive training period (eight-day camp) at Whistler, B.C. We had amazing training, and amazing training as well at Panorama. We’ve worked hard to be prepared. He won’t be going in cold. He’s excited to be back in the starting gate.”
After his shortened 2019-20 season, Marcoux had knee surgery in September, 2020. More than a year later, he finally returned to on-snow training in Italy, but that was halted when he reinjured his back. As Marcoux focused on recovery and rehabilitation at Mont-Tremblant, Que., last fall, Rodgers supported his teammate, but also concentrated on his own training program on and off the snow.
“We were going through this together,” added Rodgers, 23, who was a solid technical skier in his youth, but rarely found the medal podium and never advanced a provincial team. “It was a really good test for our spirit and commitment to each other.”
By the time Marcoux was getting back up to speed as a skier and feeling healthy, the first two World Cup stops in December had passed and the decision was made to miss the world championships in mid January to be prepared for the Beijing Paralympics.
Born in Haviland Bay, Ont., and inducted into the Sault Ste. Marie Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, Marcoux began skiing at age four, but started to lose his eyesight at age nine because of Stargardt disease, an inherited form of macular degeneration causing central vision loss. A year later, he was legally blind (less than 10 per cent vision).
When Femy retired as Marcoux’s sighted guide after the 2018 Paralympics, Mont-Tremblant Ski Club head coach Jocelyn Huot and Canadian para alpine ski head coach Jean-Sebastien Labrie instantly thought of Rodgers as the replacement. Rodgers had known Marcoux for a number of years and held him in high regard. They also complimented each other well as skiers.
“In June, 2018, I did a camp at Mount Hood (Oregon) as a trial. I enjoyed it and I felt good. I continued to ski to be part of the commitment,” explained Rodgers, who combines his dedication to skiing with Marcoux with his pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Ottawa.
“I’ve got to know Mac, have respect for him and have developed a relationship that has kept me in it. I do it for myself and take a lot of pride in it. But for me, the relationship with Mac keeps me going.”
During a race, Marcoux follows Rodgers out of the start hut. Both skiers are wearing headsets to be able to speak to each other going through the course. Marcoux’s partial vision allows him to “see a lot off of my body language,” according to Rodgers, who also gives the appearance he is attacking the course.
“The challenge is very high to make the right move, say the right thing,” highlighted the De La Salle high school grad. “It definitely is hard, but hard in a different way. My (top) quality as a guide, and I value it as a person, is communication.
“Mac and I are a team in an individual sport at the end of the day. I have no job without him. We have really good balance (between us). We have good give-and-take, and mutual respect.”
Rodgers is excited about racing in his first Paralympic Winter Games. They have helped each other throughout this interrupted process and have become stronger for it. Marcoux has remained calm and Rodgers has been receptive and respectful.
“My expectations are all based on feelings, the love I have for the sport, the confidence I have in the start gate and not the result,” Rodgers explained. “I will try my best and be the best guide for Mac.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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