The World’s Most decorated

With three Paralympic gold medals, Sonja Gaudet is the world’s most decorated wheelchair curler. She currently resides in Vernon with her husband Dan.

In 1997, as a young mother with two small children, Sonja fell off a horse and experienced a spinal cord injury which left her wheelchair-bound. However, she was determined to maintain the healthy lifestyle she had enjoyed before the accident, and turned to Rick Hansen with questions about adaptive sporting opportunities and raising children from a wheelchair, since his children were around the same age.  

WheelChair Curling

She tried a variety of wheelchair sports, but discovered curling almost by accident in 2003 when the Vernon Curling Club sought her advice on making their building’s bathrooms more accessible.  Wheelchair curling was set to be a new Olympic sport, and with training from Sharon Morrison and Jan Mori, Sonja quickly qualified for the national team in 2005. She made her debut the following year at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics

Paralympics

Sonja and her team went on to win three straight Paralympic gold medals for Canada: in 2006, 2010, and 2014. At Sochi, she served as Canada’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremonies. Sonja is also a three-time world wheelchair curling champion, and her efforts saw Canada become virtually unbeatable in this sport between 2009 and 2014.

In 2013, Sonja became the first wheelchair athlete inducted into the Curling Canada Hall of Fame. In 2016, Sonja retired from her athletic career, and two years later, was featured on a Canada Post stamp.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check it out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Sochi Paralympic gold medalists at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre celebration in 2014. Left to right: Ina Forrest (Armstrong), Josh Dueck (Vernon) and Sonja Gaudet (Vernon).

An Unbreakable determination

Even a tragic accident could not slow down Josh Dueck’s remarkable athletic career.

Josh was born in 1981 in Kimberley, B.C., and now lives in Vernon. An aspiring Olympian, Josh learned to ski at the age of 13, and later worked as a coach of the Silver Star Freestyle Ski Club. 

In 2004, while attempting to demonstrate a jump to a group of club members, Josh experienced a crash landing that resulted in him being paralyzed below the waist.

Within a year, however, Josh was back on the snow as a sit-skier, and made his Paralympic debut at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here he won a silver medal in the men’s sitting slalom race.

A remarkable Feat

The following year, Josh made waves by becoming the first person to complete a back flip on a sit ski, a feat which earned him a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2012. In 2013, he was also named one of the National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year.

An Olympic Champion

At the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Josh captured his second Paralympic silver medal, this time in the downhill event, as well as a gold medal in the super combined. To honour his achievement, he was named Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

A Community Icon

Josh is not only an ambassador for Paralympians across the country, but also an active community member involved with a plethora of organizations, including the Rick Hansen Foundation, Wings for Life, Spinal Cord Injury BC, and the Live it Love it Foundation.

In 2018, Josh Dueck was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check is out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrated Local Athletes

The Winter Olympics in Beijing are underway, with Vernonites Kevin Hill and Emma Lunder having competed in their respective sports (Elena Gaskell was also nominated, but was sadly forced to withdraw after sustaining a knee injury). In addition to Hill, Lunder, and Gaskell, Vernon has been home to several accomplished athletes over the years, including Rob Boyd.

The highlight of Rob’s successful skiing career came on February 25, 1989, when he soared down Whistler Mountain to become the first male Canadian to win a gold medal in a World Cup downhill race in his home country.  

An origin story

Rob started skiing in Vernon when he was only three years old, using a homemade tow rope his father, Sandy Boyd, had built. By his mid-teens, Rob decided to pursue a career in skiing; the fact that his parents owned their own ski hill (the New Winterside Ski Hill and Recreation Area in Tillicum Valley, which operated in the 1970s) was likely a great help in sharpening the young athlete’s skills. He also competed with the Silver Star Ski Club

Rob qualified for the provincial ski team at the age of sixteen and moved to Whistler with his parents. Two years later he made it to the national downhill team. In 1985, he won his first downhill at Val Gardena in Italy’s Dolomites; it is this Italian mountain that saw Rob place in the top-ten six times during his career, including two of three World Cup victories.

Crazy Canucks

Rob was following in the footsteps of “Crazy Canucks” Jim Hunter, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Steve Podborski, and Ken Read, a group of Canadian athletes who earned a reputation for impossibly fast downhill skiing and consistently challenged European athletes on the World Cup circuit in the 1970s and ‘80s. Besides the  three World Cup victories, Rob finished on the podium six times and captured 28 top-fifteen results in his twelve years on the national team. He also qualified for six world championships and three Olympics before retiring in 1997.

Rob Boyd was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Vernon Vanguards of Winter Sports

If you are interested in learning about other celebrated local athletes, the Museum and Archives of Vernon is hosting a Winter Sports Display featuring vanguards Larry Kwong, Josh Dueck, and Sonja Gaudet. Check is out during the museum’s open hours.  

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

leaping into winter

 

November 27, 2020

As we draw on our strength and resiliency as a community to make it through this pandemic in as safe and healthy way as possible, many residents are looking forward to a season of winter sports to help get us through this time, “together, apart”.

Some may be using this opportunity to take up winter sports for the first time. In 1929, it seems Vernon residents were both curious and enthusiastic about discovering more about what for most would be a brand new sport – ski jumping.

 

Vernon residents line up to watch ski jump demonstration  in 1929  exhibition on Turtle Mountain and the site of current day Nel’s Leap hiking trail, part of the Grey Canal trail system.

On February 3, 1929, cars lined the unpaved roads of what are now 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive. Ski jumpers Nels Nelson, E. Engen, Ole Olson and Karl Wallenstein were putting on an exhibition at the ski jump hill above the Kin Race Track, and the event drew hundreds of onlookers. 

On January 31, 1929, the Vernon News reported: “Vernon people are to enjoy their first thrills of ski jumping on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd when on the hill west of the race track some of the best known jumpers in the world will put on an exhibition.  Nels Nelson, of Revelstoke, who holds the world’s record of 240 feet made at Revelstoke in 1925, will be one of the jumpers.” 

Nels Nelson was born in 1894 in Salangen, Norway.  His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled near Revelstoke, British Columbia. There, Nels quickly became involved with the skiing scene, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Revelstoke Ski Club. Nels became a competitive ski-jumper, and earned a number of trophies over the years. By the 1920s, Nels was considered a skiing legend, competing as far away as the United States; in fact, he was the Canadian Champion ski jumper for five years between 1917 and 1922.  In 1925, Nels broke the world amateur ski jumping record at 240 feet, which also broke the professional mark of 229 feet.  He did this all while sick with the flu.    

The Vernon exhibition was a great success; a few days later, on February 7, 1929, the Vernon News reported that “Nels Nelson [had whizzed] through the air and [traveled] 1,600 feet down mountain side in 11 seconds – glorious weather [contributed] to enjoyment of large crowd – Nelson says hill can be made on which to break records.”    

Despite Nels approval of the hill, it was only used for one season before ski jumping activities moved to the slopes above the Vernon Golf Club.

As for Nels, his career was cut short only a few short years after his appearance in Vernon. During the winter of 1932, Nels was injured in a hunting accident that led to the loss of his hand.  He never jumped again.

Nels passed away in 1943, but his many feats have not been forgotten. Nels was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1983, and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. The Revelstoke “Big Hill” was renamed Nels Nelson hill in 1948. In 2014, Kalamalka Rotary revealed the culmination of a more than three years of work with the opening of Nels’ Leap Trail, accessed from the top of 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive, near where Nel’s made his historic leap in 1929.

Gwyn Evans