Whistler Secondary School went big-time when bringing in its first inspirational speaker to its sports academies.
The school brought in three-time Olympic snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll, a WSS graduate, to give a talk to the students on Dec. 9.
Nicoll appreciated the opportunity to pass along the lessons she's learned over the course of a lengthy pro career that started with a World Cup event here in Whistler in December 1999.
"I was just trying to help them find their passion and also tell them that it is possible for Whistler kids to achieve greatness as a bunch of us have all gone to the Olympics," she said. "I was telling my stories about growing up and how I fell into sport. I tried a lot of different things and also told them about my Olympics story in Sochi and if you fall, you have to get back up."
Getting up was a major challenge Nicoll faced after a harrowing crash in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, as she suffered a concussion from which she feels she's only recently found relief.
"I've only been symptom-free the last two months, so it took over a year and a half to take that journey and really take the time to get over everything and just be smart about it," she said. "I couldn't walk or talk for three months after the Games and since, I've tried to do everything I can to get better.
"I was telling the kids that before, a walk that would take me 10 minutes took me an hour. You can't even read books let alone look at a TV screen. I'm miles from where I was and now I have my personality back."
WSS physical education department head Caroline Morris said that element of the talk was of particular importance as many students attending the academy had suffered a head injury at one point or another.
"Sometimes, not everyone takes concussions seriously, and I think it made them realize how important it is to take care of yourself if you do have a concussion," Morris said.
While bringing in an Olympian would likely make the students sit up and take notice, the fact that Nicoll was once in their seats further strengthened the presentation's impact.
"The fact that she had been a student here was quite powerful. She made the students connect with the fact that they're in the position she was in," Morris said. "They can take their sport to a whole new level with these strategies and tools that she talked about."
Morris said though the students are very clearly focused on their respective sports, she hopes Nicoll made an impression that life isn't entirely about athletics.
"You should still focus on your studies. Just because you're an athlete doesn't mean you have to put all your eggs in that basket," Morris said. "There are a lot of sacrifices you have to make, but it's worth it."
While the hockey academy is in its second year, the soccer offering is in its first. Morris is pleased with how the year has gone and hopes to see soccer expand next year. There were 34 participants this time around, which wasn't quite enough to split into two groups to run the program year-round. However, if a half-dozen more kids register for 2016-17, she said it would be reasonable for 20 to go in the fall while the other 20 take part in the winter.
Those interested in signing up for next year are encouraged to contact Morris at the school at 604-905-2581.