Make no mistake: Collin Cameron is all about his paralympic sport – and he couldn’t be happier.
Doubling his output of medals with another three podium appearances in Beijing in March, the accomplished para-nordic skier made the move to Canmore (AB) on a permanent basis about a year ago, smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, but with a clear vision regarding what he hoped the future might bring.
“In terms of what we have available for the training that we need to do, this is the best place for it,” said Cameron, now 34 years old and showing little signs of slowing down, committed to at least one more quadrennial of training and perhaps another after that. “As great as it was, my little spot in Estaire, training there all the time, it was still a half hour from my house.”
“And in Sudbury, I was pretty much by myself. Training solo all the time is different, compared to out here, surrounded by my coaches and my teammates. We have so many facilities located right in Canmore; plus physio, massage – and a biathlon range too. You really couldn’t be in a better place to focus on your training.”
It is that very narrow focus that Cameron has come to appreciate.
Born and raised in Bracebridge, the paralympian who has dealt with the effects of arthrogryposis since birth made the move to Sudbury for work back in 2012. Looking to keep active, he had reached out initially to the Northern Sliders Sledge Hockey team, but quickly found his way to para-nordic ski and coach and friend Patti Kitler.
A quick study, Cameron climbed the ranks every bit as swiftly as he blazes his way through his signature event, the para-nordic sprint, representing his country some 18 months or so after first picking up the sport. By the time that the Pyeongchang Games rolled around in February 2018, the locally trained product was poised for success, capturing bronze in the 4 X 2.5km relay, as well as both the 7.5km and 15km biathlon events.
Fully immersed in an environment conducive to reaching his peak, Cameron and coaches fine-tuned their vision of the objectives for China some twelve months ago, even as question marks abounded regarding the potential impact of Covid-19 and the more recent Omicron strain. “The sprint race has always been my strongest event since day one, so the big goal going into Beijing was definitely to try and get a result in that race,” he said.
Victory in the sprints was certainly within the realm of possibilities, leaving Cameron perhaps just slightly disappointed, albeit realistic regarding the third place finish in China. “I did everything I could to get that result,” he said. “I had one of the best races I ever had, so there was nothing I could change in what happened on sprint day.”
The surprise, however, came in the 18km event, a race which takes place just a couple of days prior to the sprints. “I don’t think it would be fair to say that we were focusing the training on any long distances races for me; that’s not my strong suit,” acknowledged Cameron. “My attitude before the 18km race kind of reflected that.”
“I was almost nonchalant about it. It was strictly a training event for me to do a long, hard effort in preparation for sprint day. When I do that two days (before sprints), I tend to respond very well. It ended up being the best (distance) race I’ve ever had in my life.” In the end, while a gold or silver medal would have been nice, three top three finishes were more than was expected.
And Cameron, like so many others, appreciated both the uniqueness of the 2022 Games, as well as the memories that were part and parcel of that package. “It was definitely a different atmosphere,” he said. “Flying into Beijing, everything was locked down. There was a special section of the airport just for the athletes.”
“And once we got to the village, you couldn’t leave. I thought they did an incredible job of making sure that the health and safety of the athletes, staff and all of the volunteers was first and foremost a priority.”
“Once you accepted daily testing, it just became the norm,” added Cameron. “There was no real stress about it. It was what had to be done and you got on with it. Aside from that, it was business as usual: you get up and have your breakfast and try and focus on what you have to do that day to perform the best that you can.”
“It just added to the uniqueness of the Games in Beijing.”
Given the turmoil of both the pandemic and his relocation right across the country, it’s small wonder that Cameron is perhaps more thankful than ever for the contact that he maintains with the woman who helped kick-start this whole adventure not even a decade ago.
“At least once a month, Patti (Kitler) and I touch base and check in,” he stated. “She is still there as more or less a guidance role, there when I have those larger, broader questions – or even just to talk. I still consider her as one of my coaches, even if it’s more of a life-coach role at times.”
“She’s still part of the process.”
Truth be told, Cameron is more than a little optimistic that their partnership, as well as the one he maintains with the national team, has yet to run its course. “I definitely have aspirations of racing and competing at the highest level for four more years, going into Italy (2026),” he said. “And I’m still kind of looking at four more years after that, especially if Canada gets the Olympics/Paralympics in 2030.”
“Who wouldn’t want a swan song in their own country?”
Where some athletes have to mull over a number of factors, pros and cons, when deciding to embark on another four years of training, Collin Cameron made his mind up quickly.
“I think I’ve found that one thing in life that brings me that joy that I think we are always trying to look for in life, something that you have a purpose doing,” he noted. “That’s what I have found in this sport.”
“I know that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.”