Visually impaired athlete Brenda MacDonald went into her final competitions of the downhill ski season with an open mind and that approach seemed to work just fine.
On Sunday, the 18-year-old Grade 12 student at King's-Edgehill School returned from the para-alpine Canadian and American nationals in California with four gold medals.
MacDonald, who competed in the women's visually impaired slalom and giant slalom at both events at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, hasn't raced a lot this year, focusing instead on academics.
"I was just having an open mind of trying to push myself and see where I could make it and I managed to push myself far enough that I did very well."
While she's raced less this season, she has perhaps bridged the challenge with the help of her new coach and guide: her father, Stephen.
Visually impaired skiers follow their guide down the hill. Using a two-way radio, the guide advises the athlete about hill conditions and what's coming up along the course.
MacDonald said there are ups and downs to the pairing — as with any relationship — but her dad knows how to push her and get results. Having a strong relationship with the guide is crucial in visually impaired skiing, said MacDonald, so having her dad fill that role has been helpful.
"You're pretty much trusting somebody to take you down the hill safely at a high speed," she said.
"It's trusting someone else to be your eyes."
Training in Colorado beneficial
MacDonald said she also benefited from eight weeks of training in Colorado, where she was invited to train with the National Sports Centre for the Disabled.
"They have people from all around the world go train with them," she said.
Having that exposure to the facilities, coaches and other athletes is a big help, said MacDonald.
"It's amazing," she said.
"Being able to go to another skiing area with other disabled athletes … it makes it more fun because the coaches actually know how to address the situation or how to explain different techniques to improve the skiing."
MacDonald is currently the only visually impaired woman ski racing internationally.