The rewards for Phil Chew didn't come solely in the number of skiers he sent to the Canadian para-alpine team, or in the Paralympic successes his athletes went on to achieve.
It was always about more than just ski racing.
"It's having these young guys become productive members of society and get on with their lives, too," said Chew, who is retiring after more than two decades as head coach of the B.C. Para-Alpine Ski Team. "That's the most important thing."
In that regard, Chew has been tremendously successful, helping dozens of disabled athletes get the most out of life through sport.
The Whistler resident has spent the past 21 years at the helm of the program run by B.C. Adaptive Snowsports (BCAS), but this past winter was his last. During his tenure, Chew coached 18 athletes that would move up to the national team; some of them going on to become Paralympic and world championship medallists.
"I don't think there's been another province in Canada that's done that," Chew said of B.C.'s success in producing national-team skiers. "A lot of good things happened."
Chew said the BCAS recently changed the qualifications and requirements of the head coach's position, including expanding the workload from an eight-month commitment per year to 52 weeks. The 62-year-old was encouraged to re-apply, but since he was already planning to retire within the next couple of years, Chew decided it was time to step aside instead.
"Phil is a legend, not only in the para-alpine world, with fellow coaches and race organizers, but also very well respected in the alpine community in general," said BCAS president Kay Fulford in a release.
"Thank you, Phil, for your tremendous contributions as a volunteer and employee over the last 20 years, you really have made a difference."
Despite the sudden changes, Chew said he has no hard feelings for the BCAS.
"They've allowed me to do some great stuff there over the last 21 years," he said.
If you ask some of the athletes who skied under Chew's guidance during that time, his departure will leave a big void for the BCAS to fill.
"From a bottom-heavy point of view, he was the anchor for the entire program — right up to the Paralympic level," said former sit-skier Samson Danniels.
"Anybody that knows Phil knows that he's one of a kind. There's really no replacing him, that's for sure."
Danniels credited Chew for helping him get his start in ski racing. He went on to compete at the 2010 Paralympics and later won a gold medal in Mono Skier X at the Winter X Games.
"Phil was the first guy that gave me a spot in a program that was going to benefit my skiing... his interest in me was absolutely integral to me being able to move on and develop," said Danniels. "While Phil as a coach was very valuable to a lot of people, his most tremendous addition to the program was his ability to recruit and show people that this is something you can do at a high-performance level."
Danniels also noted that Chew's experience, as a three-time Paralympian himself was hugely beneficial as he churned out skiers that went on to become Paralympians themselves.
"This year, at the Paralympics, Josh Dueck won two medals and Caleb (Brousseau) won one. Those are my guys," said Chew. "They're still making me proud."
Local standing skier Matt Hallat was another athlete Chew has fond memories of coaching, helping him get his start as a child.
"Watching him grow up and become a young man and a confident skier getting on with his life, that's made my heart feel warm," said Chew.
Speaking to Pique from Banff, where the national team is currently in the middle of a spring training camp, Hallat said Chew's body of work as a coach speaks for itself.
"I don't know what the percentage is of skiers on the national ski team that have come through B.C., but it's pretty high," said Hallat. "He is the key factor, he's the one guy that has been there throughout.
"His legacy is that he got a lot of people just like me inspired to go ski racing and have fun at it. That fire keeps burning for everybody who continues on from his program."
But watching athletes overcome their disabilities and find success away from the ski hill has brought Chew some of the greatest satisfaction.
"The biggest thing I tried to teach was: 'As long as you're doing 100 per cent the best you can, don't worry about what other people think,'" said Chew. "I felt that myself being a disabled person, that I was always trying to please everybody. It comes to a point where you've got to start pleasing yourself and get on with your life.
"Just trying to make sure you don't look awkward or out of place — forget about that shit. That's other people's problems, not yours."
As he leaves the position, it doesn't sound like Chew's coaching days are over. He's hopeful to get to work with the B.C. team during training camps and other special gatherings going forward. He has also completed some cycling coaching courses he'll put to use as a founding member of the Whistler Cycling Club.
"I'm really involved in the cycling, so maybe that's going to be a little bit more of my retirement," Chew laughed.
The BCAS is planning a special tribute in Chew's honour at the organization's annual gala in September.
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