From Prince Albert to PyeongChang

Brittany Hudak competing in a national cross-country skiing competition as a member of Team Saskatchewan. -- Photo Courtesy of Brittany Hudak/Submitted

P.A.’s Paralympian has guts, drive, determination and pride in her roots

By the end of March, Brittany Hudak can say she’s competed with the best in the world.

Twice.

And she got started just six years ago.

“I started when I was 18, which is super late for the sport of cross-country skiing,” she said with a laugh.

The 24-year-old Prince Albert native is set to compete in her second Paralympic Games, come March.

By the start of the month, she’ll head to Pyeongchang, South Korea with Canada’s Para-Nordic National Team to compete in the 2018 Paralympics. Her first event will be a six kilometre biathlon, mid-day on March 10.

It wasn’t that long ago that the ambitious woman was working at the city’s local Canadian Tire on the south side of P.A., unaware that an accomplished Paralympian had her eye on her as a potential recruit to the sport.

That Paralympian was Colette Bourgonje, who’s medaled in three Paralympic Winter Games (1998, 2006 and 2010) and in two Summer Games (1992 and 1996).

Bourgonje was born in Saskatoon, grew up in Porcupine Plain – just southeast of Melfort and Tisdale – and now resides in Prince Albert.

Like Hudak, Bourgonje is a local who’s made it big on the world stage. And according to Hudak and her father, Dave, Bourgonje has made a habit of keeping an eye out for local talent.

Up until learning of the sport from Bourgonje, Brittany had been an avid long-distance runner.

“I really liked running as a kid, because I find it so easy to just have a pair of running shoes and go. I never felt like I was limited by my disability, and I grew up out of town on an acreage, so it was just like, ‘put on my running shoes and let’s go,’” she explained.

Hudak was born without the lower half of her left arm.

When she competes, she uses a single pole. She and other Paralympic skiers aren’t allowed to use or wear prosthetic arms while competing.

She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Brittany Hudak competing in world circuit cross-country ski competition as a member of Team Canada. — Photo Courtesy of Brittany Hudak/Submitted/Les Berezowski – Canmore Photography

Her father tells an indicative story of his daughter’s I-can-do-it-myself attitude.

“When she’s learning to ride a bike (as a child). So, one arm’s regular length, the other one’s here (gestures to his elbow). How do you hold the handle bars?

“So I made this concoction on the handle bar of her bike, so she could put one arm there and one on there, and off she went on her bike.

“She came back, and I said, ‘well how was it?’

“And she’s like, ‘yeah, can you take that thing off my bike?’” he said with a big smile.

“She never really wanted any special treatment.”

Of course, Hudak is quick to underscore the support she’s received on her six-year journey to world competition. That starts with Bourgonje at Canadian Tire and her joining the local ski club, Sturgeon River Nordic.

It extends to support from her family and friends, and that of her teammates and coaches in Canmore, Alta., where she now lives.

Her qualification for the 2014 Games in Sochi was unexpected news for her, she said. While competing on the world circuit, she had been practicing and training with Sturgeon River Nordic in and around P.A., sometimes at Little Red River Park.

She competed in the 15 kilometre classic, one kilometre sprint freestyle and five kilometre freestyle in 2014.

In those events, she had respectable finishes of 10th, 11th and 12th, respectively. Likewise, her finishing times were 1:05:01.8, 5:13.0 and 16:03.9.

It was after the Sochi Games that Hudak landed a spot on Canada’s national team, which led her to choosing to make the move out to Canmore, which is where the team is headquartered.

That was in 2015.

She said she’s glad she made the move, that surrounding herself with the national team’s coaches and the majority if its athletes has bred a stronger sense of competition and diligence in preparing for the 2018 games.

She’s also proud of her roots.

“I would say I’m extremely proud. Canada as a country is amazing. I love our culture and value system.

“But I’m also not afraid to say that I’m from Saskatchewan or even from Prince Albert. I think there’s a lot of things in my upbringing that have definitely made me the person that I am,” she said.

“People always look at Saskatchewan as like, ‘Oh, it’s the flat lands.’ … there’s still a lot of good things coming out of the province.

“So I think it’s definitely a feeling of pride representing the country as a whole, but also my province, because I know there’s been so many great people from that province that have helped me stay in the sport and also develop in the sport.”

As a young woman competing with a disability in competitive sport, Hudak is equally passionate to build knowledge about people and athletes who live with their disabilities.

“People have opinions or ideas about what people with disabilities are capable of. I think it’s more a lack of experience, a lack of awareness of being around people with disabilities to know exactly what our limitations are.

“I guess I’ve always been maybe slightly stubborn, and kind of wanted to prove to people what I was actually capable of,” she said.

“There are a lot of things that are maybe a bit harder, but it’s more the fact that it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It’s gonna be more challenging, but it’s still possible.”

Race Schedule

Along with her March 10 race, Brittany will compete in the following events in South Korea. All dates are in Korea Standard Time. Race times have not been set, but they will likely start mid-day (KST), according to Hudak. Korea Standard Time is 15 hours ahead of Saskatchewan, which uses Central Standard Time.

  • March 13 – 10 km biathlon
  • March 14 – classic style sprint
  • March 16 – 12.5 km biathlon individual
  • March 17 – 7.5 km classic
  • March 18 – team relay (Team selection to be announced at a later date.)
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