CALGARY, ALTA. (May 14, 2012) – Paralympian and World Cup champion Karolina Wisniewska has announced her retirement from ski racing. Wisniewska, of Calgary, Alta., who sat out this past season due to an injury suffered during a downhill race in February 2011, was first named to the Canadian Disabled Alpine Ski Team in 1995 – it was renamed the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team in 2006. She previously retired in 2004 due to a concussion, but returned to the team in 2007 in order to compete at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, where she picked up two bronze medals increasing her Paralympic medal count to eight.
“I love ski racing and I always will, but I feel more ready to move on now than I did the first time,” said Wisniewska, who earned a master’s in art history from the University of Oxford after her first retirement. “Obviously because I ended up coming back I wasn't done with ski racing and I am so glad I came back. That was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This time, knowing all that and how hard it was to retire in the first place, I didn't take the decision lightly.”
In addition to the bronze medals at the Games in Vancouver in slalom and super combined, Wisniewska, who has cerebral palsy and competes in the women’s standing category, placed second in both the super-G and the giant slalom at the 1998 Nagano Paralympic Games and set a record with four medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, with silver medals in slalom and giant slalom and bronze medals in super-G and downhill. At the time, she was the first Canadian alpine athlete to win four medals in a single Olympic or Paralympic Games. But it is the bronze medal she won in Vancouver in slalom of which Wisniewska is most proud in her career. “
Going into 2010 I had six Paralympic medals to my name, which was great and each of them has a different meaning to me,” said Wisniewska, 35. “But without a doubt, getting the bronze in the slalom in Vancouver was the best day of my life. Slalom was always my favourite and the medal presentation was at the plaza in Whistler, it was in Canada and there were thousands of people and it was amazing. It was absolutely incredible. I’m really proud of that and really happy about it.”
It was also a memorable moment for Brianne Law, athletic director of the Canadian Para-Alpine Ski Team. “Karo (Karolina) made a strong comeback after having left the sport to pursue other things and go to Oxford, of all schools,” explained Law, who was Wisniewska’s coach at the time. “She came back and wasn't the youngest out there but was determined to reach her goals. She trained hard. She came into the 2009-10 season the fittest she’s ever been and that absolutely directly reflected in her success at the Games. The (slalom) medal at the Vancouver Paralympics was the highlight - a combination of so many things for her in her life and to see that success was pretty cool.”
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Wisniewska moved to Calgary when she was five-years-old and began skiing right away as physical therapy for her cerebral palsy. By the next season, she was racing with the Sunshine Ski Club near Banff, Alta. She competed in able-bodied ski racing until joining the Alberta Disabled Alpine Team in 1994.
“I’ve been doing it so long, it really feels like a part of me,” said Wisniewska of racing. “It's so second nature to do things like a ski racer, to think like a ski racer, to train like a ski racer. “I love the competitive aspect, I love the mental aspects and there are so many great things about skiing that you just don’t get in regular life.”
Wisniewska has had over 18 podium results on the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup circuit, captured two bronze medals in slalom and super combined at the 2011 IPC World Championships and won a Crystal Globe for the overall World Cup champion in ladies’ standing in 2003. She is considered by many, including teammates, a trailblazer of para-alpine skiing in Canada and it was based on her success from before the Vancouver Games that she was inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 2007, just prior to her comeback.
“She paved the way, being the first para athlete to be inducted into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame,” said teammate Chris Williamson, of Toronto, Ont. “I think that speaks volumes to her success as a para-athlete.
“The time she won the overall World Cup title, I remember congratulating her and telling her she was in pretty elite company as there weren’t many (Canadian) women, or not many Canadians that have won World Cup overall titles period. She was the first (Canadian) female para athlete to win an overall title and that made her the third female in Canadian history to win an overall alpine title.”
Wisniewska is pleased she could contribute to the sport she loves. “I’ve been on this team longer than any athlete or coach or sports person so it’s neat because I got to see the evolution of the sport,” said Wisniewska. “It did evolve very substantially in the time I was on the team. I always like to say I lived the ‘Crazy Canuck’ period of Canadian para-alpine skiing because it was the building up of para skiing in Canada with lots of success by myself and other people, so it was awesome.”
Beyond Wisniewska’s success she was valued above all else as a good teammate and friend. “She's great,” Williamson said. “She is cheerful as a teammate and always dedicated to the team. “She is just a good friend. We actually raced fairly close to each other, as blind men start soon after standing women, so we were actually in the start area at the same time and it was always upbeat and very positive in the start area.”
Wisniewska won’t be too far from the ski-racing world having recently started working at Sport Canada in Ottawa, Ont., as a senior program officer concentrating on high performance.