Published on: February 1, 2018
Stephanie Ip, Vancouver Sun
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As Canada’s top athletes head overseas for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, B.C.’s own Ashleigh McIvor hopes they’ll look beyond the immediacy of the Games and think about how they’ll reflect on this unique experience in the future.
“The biggest thing is to consider how you’d want to feel at this stage of your life looking back on it,” she said, referencing her own journey since winning gold in the inaugural women’s ski-cross competition at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“If you sort of remove yourself from the stress and the overbearing pressure that you feel naturally in the biggest sporting event of your life and consider how you might wish you’d felt, somewhere down the road — that’s how you channel all of those nerves and energy into something positive and make the most of it.”
McIvor, 34, spoke with Postmedia News recently about how life has changed since becoming a gold medallist and how she’s passing on the Olympic legacy to her two-year-old son Oakes with husband Jay DeMerit, the former Vancouver Whitecaps FC captain.
The ski-cross champ looks back fondly on her “magical” experience during the 2010 Olympics, adding that from the time she crossed the finish line on Feb. 23 through the end of the closing ceremony, “time had a way of speeding up or completely disintegrating.”
“It was all a blur to me,” she said. “It’s all I’ve thought about for years and I haven’t gotten over it yet.”
While the Whistler-born athlete is often asked about what it’s like to cross the finish line, she remembers the start line more clearly.
“That’s the moment that is most significant in my memory,” she said. “It was just one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is what all this training and preparation has been for.’ I didn’t just mean the four years leading up to the Olympics, it was like a lifetime of indirectly preparing for it, even though I didn’t even know it would be an organized sport — let alone an Olympic sport — as a kid.
“I had butterflies to my outer extremities and I just told myself, ‘This is good. This is your body doing what it’s supposed to do.’ ”
DeMerit remembers that gold-medal race, too. The soccer ambassador was in Miami for a photo shoot during the 2010 Olympics and recalls watching McIvor’s race on his hotel-room TV.
“I didn’t even know Ashleigh at the time,” he said of his future wife. “But I remember watching her race. I was thinking, ‘Wow. Ski cross is pretty cool.’ ”
A few months later, DeMerit was signed by the Whitecaps FC and in early 2011 he arrived in Vancouver. The couple first met on the one-year anniversary of the Vancouver Games. They were married in 2013 and welcomed son Oakes Michael DeMerit in 2015. The family now splits time between Whistler and Vancouver.
As a pro athlete himself, the Olympics has always been on DeMerit’s radar, but after meeting McIvor, the experience was “enhanced.”
“To be surrounded by people of that magnitude, of that drive, of that work ethic is always something, in my opinion, that’s been enticing and, of course, in Ashleigh, I was very much drawn to that,” he said.
On the day the McIvor-DeMerit clan met with Postmedia, Oakes is wearing a grey-knit sweater with CANADA emblazoned on the back and a moose on the front. The child has a shock of white-blond hair and bright blue eyes; he oscillates between bursts of energy and a very sudden, serious shyness.
It’s no surprise that having a gold-medal mom and an MLS-captain dad means inheriting a natural inclination for sports. The boy recently turned two and already has a fondness for, of course, soccer and skiing. The 2018 Winter Olympics will be his first time taking in the event.
“He’s just getting to the point where he understands it. I was watching footage from Idre Fjall of the World Cup Ski Cross and he can tell it’s women racing so he goes, ‘Mama! Mama!,’ and thinks everyone who’s racing ski cross is me,” McIvor said, with a smile.
“It’s a pretty neat opportunity to be exposed to it at such a young age … so it’s nice to be able to share that as a family and I think Oakes sort of embodies the sense of purpose I got from competing as an athlete.”
But the legacy reaches far beyond her own experience in competition or what she’s shared with her husband and son; McIvor also praised her former ski-cross team and the Canadian men and women headed to Pyeongchang.
“We talk about it galvanizing the nation and it just had such a significant impact,” said McIvor of what the Olympics mean for an athlete and the country they represent. “It’s incredible to be a part of it and sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a significant part of that. I was just out there doing what I did for fun and it happened to work out really well — I have to remind myself that it’s actually a lot bigger than that.”