Ski racer and Whistler local Stefanie Fleckenstein’s Olympic dreams first started just over 11 years ago when Vancouver and Whistler hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
At 12 years old, and just starting to fall in love with the sport of ski racing, being able to see her idols compete in person on the world’s biggest stage sparked a passion for the sport that persists to this day for the now 24-year-old Fleckenstein.
From then, as she continued to progress in the sport over the years, Fleckenstein eventually found herself one step away from her ultimate goal as part of the Canadian National team.
But in September of 2017, with the 2018 Olympic Games right around the corner, disaster struck for Fleckenstein when a crash, while training in Chile, resulted in a broken tibia, ending her season and her chances of making the Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I definitely knew something was wrong. I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, but I could tell something was not where it was supposed to be,” said Fleckenstein of the accident.
“There were only a couple of girls on this world cup speed team, and I was one of them. I was getting to train with the girls I had looked up to for so long and then to have it end in September when it had just started in June, that was probably the hardest part, knowing that that chance was gone.”
Adding insult to injury, the timing of Fleckenstein’s crash lined up with the Canadian National team running out of the necessary funding to continue supporting her.
So with no team, no funding, and weeks of healing ahead of her, Fleckenstein took the only other option she had, and accepted a scholarship offer to Colorado University to race for its NCAA Division I team.
But even though she would rather have not been there, Fleckenstein believes going to university and racing in the NCAA, where she was awarded All-American status in both Slalom and Giant Slalom, all while upholding a 4.0 GPA this past year, has given her a new perspective on skiing and has re-motivated her towards her goals.
“I really appreciate skiing now. I think when I was at school, I’d be sitting in class and kind of daydreaming about going skiing,” she said. “And now, even if I’m having a tough day of training, or if things aren’t going exactly how I want them to go, I always have that in the back of my mind, like ‘you’re getting to do something that you’ve been dreaming of for the past three years.’ So it’s definitely made me appreciate skiing and has increased my drive to work hard.”
With the Beijing Olympics coming up in February 2022, Fleckenstein has taken the year off from school to focus on qualifying for the Games.
And despite not being on a national team and currently racing independently while training with the International Ski Racing Academy (ISRA) in Italy, Fleckenstein has the skills to take that next step and represent Canada at the Olympics, according to one of her coaches, Jim Pollock.
“I think Stef is probably one of the best all-around skiers coming up in Canada right now. She’s very coordinated, she’s got a great build for skiing, and she does the hard work, and I think that’s all you can ask for in an athlete,” he said.
“I don’t think Canada can afford to overlook any talent coming up because we aren’t that deep in talent right now. Stef is definitely someone who is on the radar and will be vying for a World Cup start and an Olympic berth. I think she’s very much in the running to get that.”
However, skiing independently without a national team to support you comes with some challenges, with the biggest of them being money, which is why Fleckenstein turned to GoFundMe to support her season.
Normally, Fleckenstein prefers to build personal connections with sponsors and make them a part of her journey, but with the COVID-19 pandemic putting limitations on her ability to hold in-person fundraising events, she had to find another way to raise money.
“Obviously I’m not at the goal that I’ve set but I am unbelievably grateful for the people that have donated,” she said about having raised just shy of $5,000 already this year.
“It feels really amazing that people even consider my dream something that is worth donating to. I’ve had an amazing experience with Nita Lake Lodge … they’ve been an amazing sponsor to me, but it’s been really cool to see the people around me that maybe aren’t even in my day-to-day life that have managed to donate and who want to be a part of it.”
Even if she doesn’t reach her lofty goal of $70,000, slated to go towards ISRA team fees, travel fees, and race and equipment costs, Fleckenstein still plans to do whatever it takes to make the Olympics, not only this year but for the next couple of Games as well.
And while not raising enough money will put obstacles in her way, she knows she’s got what it takes to don that red and white for Canada in Beijing in five months.
“Right now, I feel very confident in where I’m at, and I think that I could be there for sure. I mean I don’t want to say that, I feel like that’s jinxing it. But yeah, I feel very confident in how this year is going,” said Fleckenstein.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a lot harder [if I can’t raise enough money]. But I wouldn’t say that not reaching my goal is going to end my career. I’m going to make it happen no matter what, and my parents are the most supportive parents around, so they’re going to do anything they can to make sure that I’m able to keep going.”