Elevating People and Performances for Beijing 2022: The Series Chapter 3: Katie Combaluzier
With final preparations underway for the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games, CSIO presents a new article series highlighting how we deliver best-in-class sport science, sport medicine, and pathway support for Olympic and Paralympic partners. The focus of the series is on how #WECAN – CSIO and its sport partners – work together to help Olympic and Paralympic athletes, coaches, and support staff overcome adversity, adapt, and achieve their podium potential. Over the past couple of years, CSIO staff have been resilient and found innovative ways to provide best-in-class programs and services safely – Elevating People and Performance in Pursuit of #BuildingChampions. Because #WECAN.
By David Grossman
Katie Combaluzier has been living a new life.
The dynamics of the past are now quite a bit different.
A life-long skier, brilliant on the slopes and thirsty for success, Combaluzier knows all about misfortunes. Visions of what happened previously, and aspirations going forward, have repeatedly raced through scenarios in her mind.
For Combaluzier, overcoming the unthinkable and yet very much open-minded about addressing a new way forward, is part of a personal modus operandi leading to what has been a boom in prosperity.
To many, life is a contact sport. Combaluzier is one of those skilled and proficient athletes and is well aware of both, as well as being eager to challenge. She’s motivated by high performance and a love of the sport.
Back in March of 2018, Combaluzier was skiing with a friend on Mount Chamechaude, one of the highest mountains in eastern France and just north of Grenoble, when something went terribly wrong. Her worst nightmare happened.
After clicking into her skis and descending some 20 metres, an avalanche ensued creating havoc. On the way down, reports claim she hit a pole and fractured her spine. Combaluzier would find herself at the bottom, not fully buried, but with no feeling in her legs.
A first-year medical student at the time, Combaluzier, unable to stand, knew something was wrong. She assumed it was paralysis.
“My mind was all over the place, but I was hopeful,” said Combaluzier. “As I studied for my medical exams from my hospital bed, I knew that being a doctor with a disability,
would be a challenge, but one I could easily face. My biggest concern was how I could go skiing again.”
She focussed on months of intensive rehabilitation and, with crutches, was able to walk.
Combaluzier is quite the individual. Aware that there is steep competition, she made her passion a profession. Her ability to improve and get stronger had strengthened a personal mandate of doing the best she could in everything.
While her parents were hesitant about any form of skiing in the immediate future, they saw the affection and dedication their daughter had to the sport, adaptive skiing, and supported her pursuit.
With downhill skiing now becoming one that required special equipment, Combaluzier said she was fortunate to benefit in the form of a grant from a charity (High Fives Foundation) in the United States. Skiing equipment, which could cost about $10,000, was now a reality.
Having also to deal with the pandemic, almost a two-year lapse of no competitive activity, and learning a new form of skiing during her peak development period, Combaluzier remained focussed, stayed calm, and was more tenacious than ever.
The dream of making Canada’s Paralympic Team, and competing in Beijing, was still fresh in her mind.
2021 would be a special year for the former Athlete of the Year at Toronto’s Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute. Having focussed academically on kinesiology, and earning her degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, she was always interested in further studies involving the human body. That would continue in Ireland.
In the summer of 2021, Combaluzier graduated in medicine from University College Dublin. A few months later, she had more reason to celebrate with her first official sit-ski race and had a superb performance in Panorama, B.C.
Her nickname of “Combo” also now has a possible competitor – “Dr. Katie”.
“That first race was a huge confidence booster, just a great experience and I felt great,” she said. “There are so few (women) sit skiers, and I wanted to do well.”
Combaluzier has huge compliments for Melissa Lacroix (Physiologist) and Christine Camozzi (Strength & Conditioning Apprentice) who work at Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) in Toronto.
“Christine had a huge part in preparing me to get back on the snow,” she said. “I was new to a sport, and she was amazing in the gym at the (CSIO at Toronto Pan Am
Sports Centre) helping me with what benefitted me the most. Melissa was critical in strength and conditioning along with the programs and fitness testing.
“Without CSIO, I would not be where I am today. Their staff, knowledge, and a world class facility. I am very fortunate.”
Having met qualifying standards and producing three huge performances – a bronze medal and a pair of silver medals at the recent World Championships in Norway. Combaluzier was waiting for another highlight in her life. That happened when Combaluzier learned that she could now focus on the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Beijing. That’s the site of the 2022 Paralympic Games and she had been chosen to Canada’s Team.
Mark Newton, Sport and Athlete Development Manager for Alpine Canada, said CSIO has been a bonus for the sit skier.
“Fantastic,” said Newton. “CSIO has been absolutely superb in helping Katie. I can recall the first time we met. I have seen her journey. She picked it up quickly and it has actually been incredible to watch. Lots of natural ability, put a ton of work into the sport and she benefitted from CSIO. They’re an integral piece of the puzzle and very good at turning out athletes.”
Alpine Ontario is new to the Ontario High Performance Sport Initiative (OHPSI) – a program put together by CSIO to support a detailed provincial high performance sport system that paves the way for sustained success of athletes, and coaches, at the very highest levels of international sport.
Kip Harrington, High Performance Director for Alpine Ontario, said his sport organization has a strong relationship with CSIO and the OHPSI program.
“We work closely with CSIO and they have brought a wealth of knowledge in sport science to us,” he said. “It’s an active, not distant relationship. (CSIO) has a network and wide variety of programs and services under one roof. They have been very supportive, helping us with our athletes return to sport and OHPSI has given us an injection of funding that improves our programs and our athletes.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is a non-profit organization committed to the pursuit of excellence by providing best-in-class programs, services, and leadership to high performance athletes, coaches, and National and Provincial Sport Organizations to enhance their ability to achieve international podium performances. Our team of expert staff deliver sport science, sport medicine, life services, and coaching and technical leadership support to help Canada win medals and strengthen the sport system in Ontario and Canada. CSIO is part of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, working in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, and the Coaching Association of Canada. CSIO is further supported by funding partners such as the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries and Sport Canada. www.csiontario.ca
Laura Albright, Senior Advisor, Communications & Marketing
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Phone: 647.395.7536 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org