Canadian Paralympic athlete Alexandra Starker knows exactly what a lifetime of sport has given her.
“Confidence, that’s a big one. Believing in myself,” she says.
“And knowing that I can succeed at something. It just takes a lot of hard work and determination.”
Starker, 19, is one of the Canadian athletes who will compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, March 7 to 16 in Sochi, Russia.
“I’ve never been to Russia before,” she says. “I hope I can just have a good time and experience everything there is to offer.”
Starker races in the Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G, Super-Combined, and downhill events. She’ll be travelling with five pairs of skis, “plus I have a couple of pairs already over in Europe,” she says.
“It’s always good to have an extra pair in case you break one, or something gets lost from your luggage or whatever.”
While this is her first Paralympics, she’s no stranger to international competition. She was ranked the top Canadian female in para-alpine skiing, and she’s had four podium finishes at world championships and IPC World Cups in New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy and the U.S.
Born and raised in Calgary, Starker grew up trying myriad sports: competitive dance, soccer, T-ball. Born with a congenital limb deficiency, she began skiing when she was four years old at Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park.
A graduate of Calgary’s National Sport School, she joined the Alberta Para-Alpine Ski Team when she was 11, and for two years, she was also a member of the Canadian Sitting Volleyball team. In 2013, she decided to focus on skiing, leading up the Sochi Paralympics.
“Skiing is just really fun,” she says.
Yet Starker’s road hasn’t been easy. When she was 14, she fell and broke her leg. She spent months in a cast, and had to have surgery before the injury finally began to heal.
“For a while there, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to ski again. I still have some problems today from it,” she says.
“But I was pretty determined to not let an injury ruin my career. I wanted to come back and be as good as I was before, or better. There’s a saying: ‘If you fall down three times, get up four.’”
She credits Canada’s system for professional athletes for much of her success. “Nobody in this sport does it for the money. Nobody’s getting rich. We’re all here because we love skiing,” she says.
“But with the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary (now the Canadian Sport Institute), we have access to four or five gyms, access to trainers, career counseling, help with retirement from sport, sport psychologists. There are a lot of resources here.
When she’s not skiing, Starker enjoys reading and painting. With the help of a special prosthetic, she also plays guitar.
She says she has seldom experienced any negativity surrounding her abilities.
“Sometimes people are worried that you aren’t going to be able to do something,” she says.
“But my parents told me to always prove people wrong, to show them you can do things.”