Golden Ricker shining bright

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VANCOUVER - The dream came long before there was any sport in mind.

There was something about the Olympics, something about winning a medal that engaged a very young, very competitive Maelle Ricker. She saw a medal ceremony on television and almost immediately wanted her own.

All she needed to do was find her game. “I didn’t know what sport,” the gold medal winner said Wednesday. “I didn’t know anything about snowboarding. I just had this dream, and this was something I thought about, I wanted to do.

“I was one of those kids who played everything growing up, soccer, track, ski racing, mountain bikes. You name it, I played it.”

Everything but skateboarding. That she tried once. One too many times. In Grade 12, after the first snowboarding competition of her life — a win, for which she was paid $750 — she was invited by other competitors to go skateboarding. She went, she fell and she finished high school on crutches.

“She dislocated her foot,” said her mother, Nancy Ricker. “It wasn’t good. You should have seen it. Her foot had bent in the opposite direction. I can honestly say it’s the only sport she’s ever failed at.”

The snowboard cross gold, the second Canadian gold medal of the Games, should not be diminished because it wasn’t first. It may not have the same ring of excitement as Alexandre Billodeau’s gold, but it is every bit as real, every bit as earned, and in many ways an even more unlikely Olympic story.

Ricker’s high school is a kilometre away from Cypress Mountain. For most Canadians, these Olympics are at home. This isn’t just home for Ricker, this is her neighborhood, where she lives in North Vancouver with her high-achieving parents. Her father is a retired geologist, her mother a retired university biology professor. Ambition was part of her DNA.

“To be able to compete at home, and to get on the podium, it’s kind of insane,” Ricker said. “Who would have thought this was possible? When I started doing this, there wasn’t a Vancouver Olympics, there wasn’t anything at Cypress. This is a one-in-a-million shot, to do this so close to home, one-in-a-billion.”

Ricker’s reaction upon winning was similar to Bilodeau’s without the same kind of national upheaval. She said she felt like she was walking on air Wednesday, being the second Canadian, in essence, to walk on the Olympic moon.

“I felt so great for her,” her mother said.

As has been documented in recent days, Ricker thought she could win gold in Turin four years ago, only to be injured in the final and carted off the mountain by helicopter.

“I felt so bad for her then,” her mom said. “Even though she handled it well from the outside, I think it devastated her for a long time. She never really said a word about it but you know your own kids, and you know how they react. I think that was even more motivation for her to do it.”

On Wednesday night, one day later than originally scheduled, Ricker was presented with her gold medal: It came three Olympics and 14 years and her first snowboarding victory. This one pays a little better than $750. And now she goes from gold medal winner to Olympic fan to role model.

“I don’t think it’s all hit me yet,” she said. “The fact young girls will look to me and want to do this. I’m still shaking. I feel like I’m floating around. It’s really hard to describe. I plan on enjoying the rest of the Olympics, just getting out and seeing stuff.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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