A Sudbury send-off to Sochi Paralympics
by Randy Pascal
The Sudbury connection at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was unmistakable. With the likes of Rebecca Johnston, Devon Kershaw and
Meagan Duhamel competing, the community was clearly on the media radar.
Come the start of the 2014 Paralympics on March 7th, the connection to Northern Ontario will be much more subtle. Which is not to say that one will
not exist. Certainly, not in the eyes of nordic ski enthusiast and coach Patti Kitlar.
The local woman, who led the charge in developing a Para Nordic ski program in Ontario back in 2007, was called upon for her invaluable knowledge yet
again. In early February, Kitlar drew a visit from 29 year-old Margarita Gorbounova of Ottawa, as she prepares for her second appearance in the
Paralympics, this time in her native homeland.
Involved with the coaching of Gorbounova when she first indicated an interest in pursuing para nordic more seriously back in 2005, Kitlar now welcomes the visually impaired
athlete to Walden just prior to some of her more noteworthy competitions.
"Before each big event, she comes to visit me for a week or so and we fine-tune her technique," explained Kitlar. "I'm trying to make her look smoother.
A person who is visually impaired usually looks for obstacles, so when they put their (ski) poles down, they're tentative."
"They stand in a way that makes them feel safe, but the skis are moving, so this makes them more imbalanced," continued Kitlar. "We are trying to get her
body to feel more comfortable, to find the flow, the glide, so that she finds the seconds she needs."
It's an assessment that is shared by both teacher and student alike. "I obviously already have technique, but she (Patti) has got a really good eye for
seeing exactly what you're doing and exactly what you're not doing," said Gorbounova.
For the Russian-born athlete, the Paralympic movement has hit close to home. Her mother and father are also both visually impaired, with dad and daughter suffering
from aphakia. "We were both born with cataracts," explains Gorbounova.
"The cataracts were removed, so now we don't have lenses in our eyes." Her mother, Olga Nazarenko, captured gold in the 1992 Paralympics in
Albertville (France) while representing Russia.
The family moved to Canada in 1999, eventually settling in the Ottawa area in 2005. To Kitlar, Gorbounova provides another challenge, similar yet
different from other athletes that she has aided.
"Body movement is body movement," said Kitlar. "You have to watch them (the athletes), look at how they're getting the force at the right moment so that
they accelerate forward. It's still physics, it's all physics, and that's the fun part."
While Kitlar may have harboured national team coaching aspirations at one point in time, she is more than comfortable working at the grassroot levels
these days. "I was up there and I got frustrated, so I dropped down to the bottom so that I could teach technique and skills," Kitlar said.
"You have to produce athletes with technique, and I'm a very good technician." Gorbounova certainly hopes so. She is looking for a marked improvement from her
first set of Games in Vancouver.
"I went there more for the experience," she said. "I wasn't ready to really compete just yet. But just to be there and be part of that atmosphere was
amazing. Just to be part of Team Canada, with the Olympics in Canada, was great."
This time around she longs for more. "I'm feeling like I can race now, especially with Patti finding me some seconds," Gorbounova smiled. "I'm just
more confident with my technique, and that it's all coming together."