Georgia Simmerling first represented Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games at the age of 21 in Alpine Skiing. Searching for the next challenge, Simmerling changed her direction and crossed over into the world of Ski-Cross. Not satisfied with only competing in a winter sport, she took to cycling to pursue her dreams of competing in a summer games and is now on the Canadian team for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Sara Gross and Maria Samson spoke to Georgia Simmerling on the March episode of WiSP World Canada.
SG: You went to Vancouver to the Olympics in 2010 for the Super-G, but you’ve also been a medallist at the World Cup Level in Ski Cross. Tell us a little bit about your skiing career.
GS: I grew up in Vancouver. I have three older brothers who really toughened me up, and I attribute a lot of my determination and commitment to sport to having a healthy and active lifestyle with my brothers. I grew up doing alpine skiing at Grouse Mountain, one of the local mountains in Vancouver, and worked my way up to represent the national team in alpine skiing. In 2010, I was named to the alpine Olympic team up in Whistler and I was 21 at the time. Pretty young to make it to my first games as an alpine skier. I wasn’t there to win a medal, but to experience the games and to see what it was all about. I had earned my spot of course, but it was a pretty overwhelming experience. Canadian fans were just so excited and supportive of someone who was wearing the team Canada jacket. I think the coolest thing about the 2010 games was the fact that if you were Canadian and you had made it to represent your country, the fans were super stoked about that. On the flipside, the whole experience was overwhelming for me.
A year later I didn’t really see my alpine career was taking me to where I wanted to go in the next 5-7 years. A lot of my teammates on the speed alpine team – Emily Brydon, Britt Janyk, Kelly VandeBeek – those women I had looked up to and become teammates with, were retiring within the year. I saw ski-cross, and I had always had my eye on it, so I contacted the national team. I knew many of the members on the team, and had previously trained with them in the summer. I raced several events the summer of 2011 and made the national team that winter.
Listen to the full interview here on WiSP World Canada
SG: So I think we can safely say you’ve been quite successful in your ski career.
GS: Well I’m planning on going back to skiing this fall. I really don’t believe that I have accomplished all that I can accomplish in skiing. I am still in love with the sport and I feel like I am only getting better at ski-cross. My last season of ski-cross was only my third or fourth full season. Not every alpiner can hop onto a ski cross course and make it down safely. It is a very dangerous sport, and I have learned the hard way. I have had a lot of injuries, but I am super excited to get back on skis.
MS: Georgia, one of the things you mentioned that hit a cord with me, was you stated how worthwhile it was to go to the 2010 Olympics for the experience rather than the medal. I think one of the things that the National Sports organization (NSO) is struggling with is that they only want to send medal hopefuls because it looks better. But for you as an athlete who’s been there in 2010, how much do you think that helped you in 2014? How much do you think that is going to help you in 2016 and 2018? What value do you think that experience had?
GS: Oh my gosh, it’s huge value. I’m getting goosebumps listening to you ask that question. My experience in 2014 in Sochi – as a new skier in ski-cross – having that previous experience four years earlier at a very different age in my career gave me huge, huge value. I went to Sochi with confidence and maturity, and an experience that I could bring with me, only because I had been to the 2010 Vancouver Games. I remember Simon Whitfield speaking to the 2014 hopefuls a year out of Sochi, here in Vancouver, and I remember him telling us about his Games experience. I believe he has been to three or four games, and he spoke very similar words. His first games were so different than the next and it kept going on like that. He said that no games are the same and your experiences will be completely different.
I didn’t have the result in 2014 that I wanted to, but that was only because of my inexperience in the sport. That only just proves that having that experience will lead me to success in 2018 if I qualify as a ski-cross athlete. On the flip side of that going to Rio this summer, I am bringing my experiences as an elite athlete, and not as a skier, and not in a particular sport, but as an elite athlete in Canada. I know this will help me with the crowds, the comments and the media. Even opening a suitcase with 10 different jackets to choose from… I could go on and on about the crazy things at the Olympics that you experience. Maturity has brought me to the level as a cyclist that I am now.
SG: All that said, it is really interesting that you’re wanting to go back to skiing. What was the impetus that you want to go back to cycling and try to ride at that kind of level on the track?
GS: I will say it has not been easy. You know, as a skier I have always been very active in my cross-training in the summer, and I had one of my biggest injuries as a ski-cross athlete in 2012. I broke my back and my neck. I broke three vertebrae in my thoracic and one in my cervical spine. I didn’t have surgery of course, and it was a very harsh time in my life. Going through that rehab and laying in the couch for 6 weeks helped give me a lot of time to think. It just came to me that I work so hard in the summer cross-training for skiing that; why not try to do it at an elite level and try and represent my country as well?! I live by the saying #YOLO. The answer is “no” until you try, and that is what I have told myself in a lot of aspects of my life.
I actually started to row; I contacted Rowing Cycling and started rowing with Ben Rutledge, Beijing gold medallist in the men’s 8. He was the coach for the Burnaby men’s rowing club. Rowing Canada was excited about my growth in the sport, but they wanted 365 days of the year for me to get better at rowing, and I was just getting into ski-cross at the time. I had to say thanks, but no thanks because I was super in love with my winter sport. The next spring, I still had this bug in me that I needed to do something at the competitive level in the summer. There are only a few sports that you can cross over at the age of 24 or 25. I couldn’t become a figure skater or a hockey player.
SG: But I love that you’re considering it.
GS: A lot of NFL players move over to bobsleigh. There is a transition and trend there. As a skier I contacted Canada Cycling. A strength and conditioning trainer who was doing contract work for Canada Cycling told me he would get me down to the next Talent ID camp for Cycling Canada. So I did that camp. I did five days in LA, and then three weeks in Pennsylvania on an outdoor track. I fell in love with the sport. That was at the end of 2014, and so I was getting back on my skis to start training in the fall. I came back to Vancouver and was flying shortly to Switzerland, but I first contacted Richard Wooles, a prominent figure in the cycling world. He has been the coach for the national team, and I believe he brought them to their bronze placing in London. Richard has been a big supporter of mine and he told me to contact him once I had finished my ski-cross season. So last spring, I contacted him and he said: ‘Let’s get to work… get back to me when you’re ready to start training at the track.’
I ended my [ski-cross] season early; I broke my wrist in seven different places, so I started my cycling journey. The journey to cycling started a little earlier than I wanted to as I was on my way to a gold medal at world championships in ski cross. Anything goes in ski-cross… you can get taken out in a matter of seconds. To say I was on my way to a gold was pretty big of me, but you could say I was doing well. After I fell in training and broke my wrist, I flew back to Canada and got on my bike.
SG: So Georgia, what are your chances then for Rio?
GS: I have raced in two world cups with the national team for the women’s endurance track cycling and we did quite well at both of those races, which I was super excited and honoured and proud to be a part of such a professional and exciting time for Canada cycling. I am crazy excited about what is to come. Once that selection is made, I can hopefully get even more excited.