Leslie eager for season, World Championships 

Para-snowboarding glory on the line at Big White

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - GETTING SET Para-snowboarder Alex Massie works out at the Whistler Athletes' Centre on Oct. 24.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • GETTING SET Para-snowboarder Alex Massie works out at the Whistler Athletes' Centre on Oct. 24.

John Leslie is now a full-time Whistler resident.

The Paralympic snowboarder had been coming to the resort for the winter for years, but just completed his second summer in the area though that first year was, admittedly, filled with domestic practicalities like finding a house and a dog.

Leslie, the snowboard-cross racer who was born in Winnipeg and raised in Arnprior, Ont., is feeling on track to tackle the coming International Paralympic Committee (IPC) season.

"Things are shaping up really well. I was training in Whistler all summer, having the mountain bike park open and a gym facility nearby has helped my training a lot," he said. "We took August and went to Chile for some on-snow stuff and we've been hitting the gym hard in Whistler."

The season officially begins next month in the Netherlands while the World Championships will be held in Canada for the first time in February. Big White will receive the honours, welcoming roughly 80 athletes from 25 countries to compete.

"They know how to do it right in Canada. Big White has hosted a bunch of IPC World Cups. They're going to get lots of input from us as athletes and coaches on how we like the events to be run so it should be great," said Leslie, who lost his left leg to cancer as a child. "It's always a good feeling. Anyone that's competed in anything probably knows the feeling of competing at home and being on home soil. The other things of having your family nearby, having your phone plan work, being able to make a phone (call) to my mom and it's in the same time zone. Things like that are going to be what gives us the extra edge."

In the offseason, Leslie focused on remaining active, but finding a way to do so outside in the sunshine as opposed to some stuffier gym confines.

"The biggest thing for me is cross-training. Obviously, there's a huge part that the gym plays in sport and you have to be strong and in shape, but doing a lot of skateboarding, using why I moved to Whistler to my advantage, going out to the beautiful skate park we have, getting onto the downhill trails that we have, (I'm) doing things to get my intensity and my brain working."

As Leslie's results continue to improve, he's hoping to find himself walking up a couple steps to accept medals more regularly.

"The last few years I've been slowly creeping up the ladder and last year it was just one too many fourth-place (finishes), so this year, I'm just going to say it, I want to be on that podium this year," he said. "It's definitely a driving force. It's always good to know you're that close to something. It can go either way — it can either make you work less or make you work harder. For me, I have been that person who's been two seconds off the mark and now I'm within a second of first place. That just inspires me to keep doing what I'm doing."

The two other members of Canada's men's para-snowboard team, Alex Massie of Guelph, Ont. and Andrew Genge of Oshawa, Ont. are also training in Whistler with Leslie.

Massie has exploded onto the scene with X Games medals the past two years and a World Championships bronze two years ago in Spain. Massie said he feels a little pressure to repeat, but mostly sees a clean slate and the chance to continue to write his own story.

"A little bit of stress, a little bit of not worrying about it," he said. "One of my strong suits is my ability to just not think about the past and go out there and have fun and snowboard. I've had a couple good seasons, but as they say in a hockey dressing room, it doesn't matter if you've beat 'em before, it's 0-0 when you go out there. It's always a new game."

Genge, meanwhile, continues to settle into the resort after moving here about a week ago. Genge, who medalled at Big White's World Cup event in February, is certainly keen to return.

"Being in Canada, that just amps it up so much," Genge said.

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