Pemberton's Hess set for worlds 

Sit-skier excited for return to Prince George

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KEVIN BOGETTI-SMITH - BACK TO PRINCE GEORGE Ethan Hess, shown here at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, will return there for the IPC World Para Nordic Skiing Championships. -
  • Photo by Kevin Bogetti-Smith
  • BACK TO PRINCE GEORGE Ethan Hess, shown here at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, will return there for the IPC World Para Nordic Skiing Championships.

For a relatively small outpost, the city of Prince George has played a pivotal role in Ethan Hess' career.

To start, the then-15-year-old won his first-ever Canada Winter Games medal—a bronze—there in 2015.

But now, his sights are set even higher, as the Pemberton sit-skier will race among the globe's best as the northern B.C. city hosts the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Para Nordic Skiing Championships from Feb. 15 to 24.

"I remember that being a really special place," said Hess, now 19.

It's been a season of development for Hess, who was born with spina bifida. In his IPC World Cup event this season in December at Vuokatti, Finland, Hess took a 17th-place finish in the middle distance 7.5-kilometre race to go along with a 20th-place showing in the five-km event and a 29th in the 800-metre sprint.

While there was no long-distance 15-km race, replaced instead with the five-km event, Hess was proud with his performance in the longest offered distance.

"I feel like my endurance has really improved," he said. "I really built my engine this summer. I put in a lot of hours and I think the volume really helped me.

"I did a lot of canoe trips with my dad, so that really built a longer-term cardio base."

The 2018 Paralympian felt he struggled in two of the three races, but his coaches confirmed before too long that his efforts were enough to crack the Canadian team for worlds.

"I was quite confident that I would be going, but of course, it feels good to have it finalized," he said. "It's a good feeling having everything set and getting ready to fly out pretty quick here (on Feb. 11)."

While his skiing has taken him to Europe and Asia already in his young career, for such an important event, Hess is more than happy to stay closer to home.

"It's cool to travel, but you're there to compete and when you're travelling, you deal with things like jetlag," he said. "Having the other people have to deal with the jetlag and be right at home, it's a good little advantage to have."

Right after worlds, Hess will head east to Red Deer, Alta. for his second Canada Winter Games experience. He looks at the opportunity as a chance to "decompress" and hang out with a number of friends who are also set to compete at the Games.

"It'll be cool to go from World Champs. It'll really put things in perspective. I don't expect to be nervous at all at Canada Games," he said. "I expect to be level-headed and to have more fun. These big races, they're very meaningful. The Paralympics was very meaningful, but I wouldn't describe it as fun.

"There's just so much nerves and so much pressure, even though I'm not at the top of the team and there's not a lot of (external) pressure on me. But there's the pressure you put on yourself."

With no competitions on his plate since the Finland World Cup in mid-December, Hess has been satisfied with his recent training block, which has given him the chance to prepare well for the two major competitions ahead.

"It's been nice to do one World Cup, take lessons from there, work on it for a couple months, then go into a month of racing," he said.

After achieving a dream he's held since he was 14, Hess is early on his track to return to the Games in three years' time with the hope of improving on his top result of 24th at last year's PyeongChang Games.

"I'm pouring my life into this and looking towards Beijing," he said.

He'll also go in a bit wiser after his Paralympics debut, as he knows now to embrace the Games for what they are as opposed to trying to treat them as just another event on the calendar.

"The pressure got to me in a way I wasn't expecting it to at the Games, so I had to re-examine myself mentally," he said. "I've really worked on that in self talk and the way I look at things. You're going to try to look at it as just another race, in a way, so you don't let the pressure get to you, but it's just a different thing."

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