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Heather Abrey Photo

Heather Abrey Photo

Three-time World Cup alpine medallist Kelly VanderBeek, of Kitchener, signs Syree Tucker’s helmet at Chicopee Ski Club last Saturday. VanderBeek retired from competitive skiing after 12 years on the national team.

VanderBeek’s farewell ‘emotional in all the right ways’

By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff

The good news is Kelly VanderBeek has plenty of time to do the things she missed during a dozen seasons of speeding down ski slopes.

The Kitchener native, who got her start as a downhill skier at Chicopee Ski Club, can immerse herself wholeheartedly in a pair of dream jobs — photography and broadcasting.

The former Grand River Collegiate Institute student can also hunker down in her basement workout facility at her Canmore, Alta., home and overdose, if she wants, on her biggest vice — home decorating and real estate shows.

More importantly, though, VanderBeek can visit home more often, like last Saturday when, in the midst of a four-day stop in Kitchener, she announced her retirement from competitive skiing at Chicopee.

And with a week off in Australia coming up after a string of television appearances in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, VanderBeek and husband David Ford, a five-time Olympian in whitewater kayaking, may finally take their honeymoon.

“We are usually on the road eight to 10 months per year, so when we picked our wedding date we looked for any weekend with at least five days off, or a week, before and after,” said VanderBeek, who married Ford in 2009 and spent the week after their wedding sitting on the couch and catching up on chores at home.

“That was the only weekend that lined up. We never really got a honeymoon. Maybe that’s what we will call this then.”

It is a due reward for Kitchener’s downhill darling, who during her career won three World Cup medals, including first Canadian woman to reach the podium at the Lake Louise, Alta. event, and was three one-hundredths of a second off an Olympic Super-G medal at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

But after a dozen years touring the continents, and with her surgically repaired knee unable to handle the rigours of World Cup competition, VanderBeek believed it was time to hang up her racer’s bib and made the announcement in her hometown.

Surrounded by familiar faces, the 29-year-old VanderBeek said she couldn’t have asked for a better day.

“It was emotional in all the right ways,” VanderBeek said. “It wasn’t emotional where I regretted my decision and was devastated. Having all those people there made it emotional, like Peter Bassin, my coach when I started ski racing, and my family, my old teachers and friends, even one of my surgeons.

“It was quite an incredible group to have around me for that announcement and felt very right.”

It was at Chicopee where the Kapuskasing-born VanderBeek got her start in ski racing as a

12-year-old under the tutelage of Bassin. She stayed there until she made the national development team at 17 — a rarity for ski racers who usually head off to the provincial team before making that jump.

There was something about Chicopee that worked for VanderBeek. The hot chocolate, the proximity to her parents’ home and the relationship with Bassin made it like a second home.

But like any home, Bassin and VanderBeek had their differences, which usually ended in VanderBeek climbing the hill without the aid of a chairlift.

“We loved each other dearly and we still do today — his whole family is like a second family to me,” VanderBeek said. “But at the same time, man, did we used to get on each others’ nerves. I used to bug him like crazy and he used to bug me like crazy.

“We’d go days sometimes without talking to each other, we’d be so angry. But we’d always wake up and go to the next race.”

This time, however, there will be no next race for VanderBeek, who returned to the World Cup circuit last season after a devastating knee injury in 2009.

Instead, she plans to focus on broadcasting and photography, her “first love” and a passion that started with VanderBeek saving pennies to buy equipment. By the age of 16, VanderBeek was shooting weddings and graduations, while some of her most recent subjects include the Royal family and former Canadian Olympic hockey player Cassie Campbell-Pascal.

Meanwhile, the opportunity to get into broadcasting came during VanderBeek’s injury, when she received “overwhelming response” from her work as an analyst for the CTV Olympic consortium during the 2010 Vancouver Games. She continued to work as an analyst for Sportsnet and CBC before hosting the Raising an Olympian features on CTV during the 2012 London Games last summer.

“Honestly, it feels like sport,” she said. “Everyone there has a role. There are 10 to 20 people behind the camera, who all have a job that’s critically important to the success of the performance.

“As the broadcaster, you’re the one doing that element of performance, so it’s very similar to sport.”

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