By Michel Beaudry
They were all set to go. The flights were booked. The Eurail passes had arrived. They even had their event tickets reserved. All that remained were the school marks. Unfortunately, Nigel Cooper’s travelling buddy — the guy with all the connections in Yugoslavia — didn’t get the report card he needed. Forget going to Sarajevo, his parent said. Forget attending the 1984 Olympics. You’re going to stay home and study.
This, undoubtedly, was one of the low points in Nigel Cooper’s life. “He and I had shared this dream for a long time,” he admits. “We’d invested a lot of money and energy in this project.” He sighs deeply, as if the story he’s recounting happened only yesterday. “I was barely 18 at the time. I wasn’t sure I could hack it alone. All of a sudden, Sarajevo seemed a heck of a long ways from Barrie, Ontario…”
Cooper’s mother would have none of his defeatist talk however. “She said — ‘you bought those tickets. Now get on that plane and go.’ There was no way she was letting me off the hook. No way she was going to let me stay home and miss out on this opportunity.”
So Nigel jumped on the plane alone. Travelled halfway around the world. And lived an Olympic experience that would change his life forever. “It’s on that trip,” says Cooper, “that I realized that this was the lifestyle that I wanted to lead.”
Indeed. For any ski racing fan — and Cooper was among the keenest — Sarajevo was quite a show. After all that was the Games where “nose-picker” Billy Johnson performed his nose-thumbing, seat-of-the-pants downhill ride to victory; the same Games where the Mahre boys both earned Olympic medals and girl-next-door Debbie Armstrong scored surprise gold. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Cooper. “The Americans were unbeatable there. It was totally inspiring…”
Cooper came back from that trip energized about ski racing like he’d never been before. He continued racing at his home hill of Horseshoe Valley (all majestic 300 vertical feet of it), but his dreams now encompassed much bigger horizons.
Fast-forward 23 years. Nigel Cooper is now program director at the Whistler Mountain Ski Club. Has been for the last five and a half years in fact. It’s a dream-come-true, says the 41 year old. “I really love this place. This is my home now…”
But it’s what he has to say about the community of young athletes and coaches at Whistler that really resonates. “You get quite a unique perspective from my position,” he explains. “And from what I can see there is a lot to be excited about around here. I’m amazed daily by the kids’ capacity to be outgoing and friendly and respectful and disciplined. These are really good kids!”