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It’s all downhill from here

As the Olympics head to their home stretch, local Paralympic skier Braydon Luscombe takes aim to follow them onto the podium in Sochi. - Andrew Leong
As the Olympics head to their home stretch, local Paralympic skier Braydon Luscombe takes aim to follow them onto the podium in Sochi.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Paralympic skier Braydon Luscombe aims to follow his team's slogan and "put the metal to the carpet" — and land on the podium in Sochi.

Slalom may be Luscombe's best shot at gold in the March 11 to 18 Games, he explained sitting at home near North Cowichan's Art Mann Park with faithful dachshund, Lola, snoozing on his lap.

If that sounds like a lofty goal, it's not without reason. Olympic athletes can test courses in countries set to host the games one year earlier. Luscombe liked what he saw from his.

"I placed fifth in test event for slalom last year," he said of runs at Sochi. "Really, I'll just do my best and see what that can give me, but I'm aiming for fifth or better in slalom."

But to standing-skier Luscombe, 21, there definitely is no 'I' in teamwork.

"Our team's attitude is that we're really adaptable," he said, citing his four committed Quebecois coaches — one of whom inspired his racers "put the pedal to the carpet" philosophy.

"Dealing with different disabilities, our team have a good way of finding different solutions to problems; we carry on and give it another go."

Going to Sochi with 13 other male and female athletes — blind, sitting or standing skiers — is a dream come true for Luscombe.

The former Duncan Christian School and Cowichan Secondary student started on a single plank at age six after healing from losing his right leg, across the knee, a year earlier to flesh-eating necrotizing fasciitis.

But being in a skiing family — dad Scott, mom Charmaine, brothers Jordan and Tyler, plus sister Hannah — Luscombe came to love the thrill of going down hills.

"I like the speed of racing; getting to the bottom and thinking 'That was a good run', or 'You can do better.'"

Not having skied before losing his leg, he didn't miss his limb.

It was compensated by various prosthetic legs from Nanaimo maker Bryan Mitchell; techniques perfected at Mount Washington and elsewhere; plus a super-positive mental attitude.

Charmaine said sulking wasn't part of Luscombe's ken.

"He was never found crying 'Poor me'. We encouraged his ability, which is huge. We couldn't hold Braydon back from anything — you'd never know he has an artificial leg from his behaviour or attitude."

Years of tuning the mechanics of downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and super-combined events saw him make the national team in 20011. He also carried the International Paralympic Committee flag during the opening of Vancouver's 2010 Games.

Luscombe's method sees him use the edges of one of his Rossignol boards, balanced by two outriggers — metal arms he holds, with little skis attached. The idea is to use the outriggers as little as possible to reduce snow drag.

"I just use them to touch down when I feel a moment of imbalance. We practise without outriggers, or with ski poles."

Practice doesn't always make perfect. Charmaine was horrified seeing her son wipe out in Sochi on TV.

"It's really hard on a mom watching a crash like that, and wait crying until 1 a.m. for call, saying 'I'm OK mom.'"

Still, slalom is the favorite of one-leg racers as "it's where we can carry the most speed," he said.

Luscombe's paralympic team gets gear discounts from suppliers, dropping ski prices from about $1,100 a pair to $700. Sponsors help too. His personal sponsor is Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The team's benefactors are Cisco Systems, Audi, Sport Chek, and Hermes Bank.

Through the Canadian Paralympic Committee , Sochi flights and hotel tabs are paid. The hosting Russians will lay on the food.

But there's no sponsor for his family. They held a fundraiser Friday at Just Jake's, a silent auction to help pay their way to cheer him on.

"It's pretty cool," said Hannah. "It'll be a good experience for our family."

Her brother's Sochi experience starts after Italy's World Cup finals Feb. 24 to 27.

He hoped Sochi's snow isn't the slushy, sticky stuff he rode last year, yielding slow times. Luscombe's focused on Sochi races March 8 (downhill), ninth super-G), 11 (super-combo), 13 (slalom), and 15 (giant slalom).

His Russian is zilch. He hasn't watched Dr. Zhivago, and doesn't drink much vodka.

But Luscombe hasn't ruled out meeting President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

"I don't know; we'll see."

 

Braydon's Best:

First World Cup season: 2012

Six top-10 finishes on the IPC World Cup circuit

2013 Canadian champion in giant slalom

Ninth in downhill at the IPC 2013 Alpine Skiing World Championships, Spain

Hobby: drawing

Possible career: RCMP

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