The term isn't officially defined by the Canadian Mental Health Association. But any Olympic athlete can relate to the condition. "It's called POD," Robin McKeever was saying Monday on a sunsplashed morning at the Canmore Nordic Centre at the base of the Rocky Mountains. "Post-Olympic Depression. "You know what, lots of athletes go through it. Lots of athletes have down years after Olympics. I think for a lot of Canadian athletes after a home Olympics in Vancouver, they just put so much into that. There was just so much pressure on them to do well - and they did do well. "But after that release, it's like, 'Now, what do we do? Where do you go from here?' and picking up pieces."
For some, however, picking up the pieces started early. About a year ago, McKeever's brother Brian - a legally blind cross-country skier - was set to make history in Vancouver and become the first athlete to compete in both the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the last minute, the Calgary native had to shelve his dreams as Canadian team coach Inge Braten opted to enter Devon Kershaw, Ivan Babikov, George Grey, and Alex Harvey in the 50-kilometre classic. POD set in immediately. So did anger, frustration, and disappointment. "It was a hard situation for everybody," Brian McKeever, 31, recalled Monday. "None of us wanted to sit out. None of us wanted to see somebody sit out. They felt as bad for me as I did for them; they got hate mail and stuff like that. "It was a really sad thing."
McKeever - with Robin as his guide and coach in the Paralympics - rebounded with a triple-gold medal haul which added to his collection of 10 medals (seven gold, two silver, and one bronze) over three Winter Paralympic Games. This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the start of the 2010 Paralympics. Led by Lauren Woolstencroft's five victories in alpine skiing and McKeever's gold medals, the Canadians had the country's best finish in a winter games. "At the Paralympics, he did what he was supposed to do," said Robin McKeever, who is Cross Country Canada's official para-Nordic ski coach. "But after the Olympics, he was hurt pretty bad by not racing. "The general goal, as I see it for Brian, is to continue onto Sochi and not only qualifying, but racing. If he's at that level, it takes care of the Paralympics in a way."
This season has been a rough ride. Competing in able-bodied races in Europe and on the Nor-Am circuit, a sinus infection shelved him for four weeks in November. But, then again, it isn't the worst time to be having a frustrating season. Like most winter sports following an Olympic year, another four-year cycle has just begun. "If you are going to have years of setback, the first year of the cycle is probably the best year," McKeever said. "You can see it in results of a lot of people. "Motivation or just trying to get back in that swing is often tough."
Except in case of the Canadian cross-country ski team - the 2010-11 season has been historic. Kershaw, 28, and Harvey, 22, claimed the first gold medal for Canada, besting the favoured Norwegians on their home turf. Only a few weeks ago, Harvey had a second-placed finish in a skate-ski race while Kershaw won one stage and finished second in two others in the gruelling Tour De Ski race in January. Meanwhile, back at his home base in Canmore where lives with his girlfriend Barb, McKeever has been tracking their results. "It's been great," he said. "It's been really fun to watch Devon, Alex, Ivan, George - all the guys. Len (Valjas) on the sprint circuit is ripping it up, too. It's exciting. It shows we're moving in the right direction and the program is good. It's progress. That's all you can hope for. They'll only continue to get better. "And we'll all get better because of it."
Following the Haywood Ski Nationals, which started over the weekend at the Canmore Nordic Centre, McKeever will head overseas to train in Europe. Following that, it's his first Para-Nordic competition of the season, the world championships in Siberia. However, his long-term goals remain status quo. Even with the stakes raised and the competition on the national team at an all-time high, McKeever plans to be at the starting line in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. "We're moving forward," he said. "It's another goal so it's something to focus our attention. You need a goal down the road, that carrot that's pulling you forward as opposed to the anchors in the past that's keeping us back. Trying to focus on the happy things and moving forward."