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Leslie earns Neil Daffern Award for Excellence

Para-snowboarder thrilled to receive honour



Whistler para-snowboarder John Leslie got an extra shot of good news to end off his 2016-17 season.

Leslie, who competes in snowboard-cross, wrapped the season with second-place showings at Sports Experts Speed Nation Nationals in Mont-Tremblant, Que. and on the NorAm Cup circuit at Copper Mountain, Colo. On April 13, he was named by Snowboard Canada as one of three recipients of the Neil Daffern Award for Excellence, an honour that looks to recognize and provide financial assistance to Canada's top riders. Laurie Blouin of Stoneham, Que. and Carter Jarvis of Calgary were the other two recipients.

"Obviously, I was super excited. It's an award I've been applying for for the last three or four years," Leslie said. "When you look back and see the type of people who have won it and see Neil Daffern, who was a pioneer in snowboarding, I was pretty honoured to receive it."

Each winning athlete receives $5,000.

Leslie said the funding boost comes at an opportune time for him as he eyes the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, next year.

"It's huge. It was an expensive season. Trying to get to the Games is always a financial burden, but it came at the perfect time. I had some debt with Canada Snowboard for some trips that it's going to help pay off," he said. "I'll basically be going into next season debt-free and I can just focus on getting to the Games.

"I don't know what the future is going to hold. I'm planning on going to 2022, but who knows what could happen? This could be my last opportunity for a boost like this."

Leslie explained as bills mounted this year, there was more than just competition on his mind, but thanked those who helped him through a tough but successful 2016-17.

"I learned that you can't be afraid to reach out for help. As an athlete, I have lots of family, lots of sponsors and lots of supporters," he said. "It was getting hard with all of the flight cancellations and changes, so leaning on them really helped out a lot.

"I also learned that you have to be doing snowboarding for the right reasons and on comp day, have the right motivations. You can't be motivated to come a certain place because of funding."

Leslie, who made sure to get in a final few days on Whistler and Blackcomb this season, is excited to prepare for next season and mount a final push to the 2018 Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

"It definitely takes a lot to be an all-around athlete and to perform perfection on race day," he said. "I got a couple bad results this year, so that always fuels me to want to do better. I'm going to work with the coaches this year, come up with the best training routine and get ready to kick ass next year."