Alexa Loo embodies the do-it-right drive you would expect from a world-class athlete. Raised in Richmond, B.C. (where she has moved back in with her parents to allow her to focus on training full-time), Loo will compete in Whistler in the parallel giant slalom, a snowboard event where two competitors race head-to-head, zigzagging around gates. She entered the game late’at 23’racing in her first event in 1995 and starting on the World Cup circuit two years later. In 2006, she became the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup medal in parallel giant slalom.
Before going full-time as a snowboard racer, Loo earned a degree in commerce from the University of British Columbia and worked as a chartered accountant. Now, at age 37, her experience and mental maturity give her an edge over younger competitors‘as well as clout with her junior teammates, who often seek her advice. ‘I have the natural tendency to mother them a bit because I’ve been around so long.’
Over the years, she has faced her share of setbacks, including a pair of ‘blown-out’ knees in the 1990s that required surgery, and another knee injury in 2007 that led to a seven-month hiatus. But Loo’who unwinds by creating vintage-style teddy bears for special friends, including her boyfriend, Ari Goosen’never considered quitting, because a disappointing finish in the 2006 Games had put her on a mission: to feel the weight of an Olympic medal around her neck this year.
While she travels 10 months of the year to train and compete, for Loo the words of her supportive parents cast a comforting safety net. ‘I can pursue my dream as hard as I want, but there will always be a place for me to come home to,’ she says. This February, on home snow, Loo will pursue her dream harder than ever.
Best Health: You were a varsity swimmer, too. How did you get into sports?
Alexa Loo: My parents thought it was a good chance for me to learn about hard work and competition. In life, if you can’t handle competition, you’re going to sink. My relationship with my mum helped me succeed. She’s good at calming me down, and saying things that get me into the same mindset I had when I was competing as a kid. Like, ‘Come on, you can do this. Go, baby, go!’ It lightens the mood.
BH: Describe the mental toughness needed to win.
AL: If I’ve had a bad snowboarding run, I say, ‘Okay, where did I make a mistake?’ Fix it and move on. At my first Olympics, in 2006, I fell and came in 20th. I was ashamed to tell people. I needed to change my thinking, so I started to see a sports psychologist. I have learned that my journey as an Olympian is what’s important.
BH: You also worked as a chartered accountant. Your two pursuits seem so different!
AL: Actually, they’re quite similar. Snowboarding is very analytical: I do turns over and over until I get them right. With accounting, I do a problem over and over until it’s right. In both of those cases, there’s no ‘It’s good enough.’
BH: You’ve volunteered as a seeing eye guide.
AL: Yes, my friend who is blind volunteers for the International Paralympic Committee. I’ve done things like help her navigate buffet lineups and get her to the committee meetings. The experience allowed me to get a look at how things operate at sports governing tables.
BH: Describe how you feel when you are at the start position, poised to compete.
AL: My heart’s racing a little. I feel excitement and nervousness. If I don’t, it’s like I don’t have my edge. Once I’m out of the gate, I’m just going. The wind is there; I’m thinking about what I’m doing, feeling the snow under my feet and the board biting into the snow. I’m focused. The instant you think about anything other than the moment, you’re done.
This article was originally titled "Home-snow advantage" in the January/February 2010 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.