Oh, mama, it's tough love

Even with two young children, ski racer Cline can't ignore her motivation to win gold

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency



TOWN OF THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, Ont. -- Canadian ski cross racer Aleisha Cline doesn't call home very often because, when she does, she invariably turns to mush.

Which is understandable.

Unlike most national team ski racers, Cline is a mom. And not just of one, but of two infant children who live at home in Squamish, B.C., with their grandmother, Kris.

"To be away from them is really, really hard. But at the same time, I have to completely separate myself," Cline said on Tuesday, after qualifying 14th for Wednesday's World Cup ski cross in Blue Mountain. "I have to focus on the task at hand."

How tough is being away from her family for most of the season? Cline said she heard her 20-month-old daughter Asia say her name for the first time -- on the phone on Monday night.

"It was really cute," she said.

Cute, but with a dagger through the heart. The separation pangs can be brutal.

It's certainly not an orthodox setup -- mom travelling all over the world during the ski season and her two kids being raised by grandma. But, so far, it's worked.

Though she has struggled this season, Cline is a decent bet to make the Canadian Olympic team in Vancouver next month, where ski cross will make its Games debut. She'll need some good performances on Wednesday here at the World Cup in Blue Mountain and next week in Lake Placid, N.Y. to qualify for the Olympics.

But Cline has proven that she can rise to the occasion when it counts.

It has certainly been an amazing journey for the 39-year former speed skier.

Cline basically was retired when she showed up at the X-Games in 1999 in Crested Butte, Co. and witnessed ski cross the for first time. Then and there, she decided that's what she wanted to do and after begging and pleading for a spot in the competition, ended up winning the event.

She then made the national team but left after the 2003-04 season when she gave birth to her son, Issac. About two years ago, three months after her daughter was born, she travelled to Australia to qualify again for the national team, returning to the World Cup circuit last season to compete against athletes often half her age.

With the exception of Ashleigh McIvor, who has already qualified for Vancouver based on her win at the world championships last year, three or four Canadian women are fighting for spots on the Olympic team. Cline would be an instant medal contender if she does make the Olympic squad (to be determined after Lake Placid). At the World Cup at Cypress Mt. last season -- site of the 2010 Olympic ski cross -- she won the gold medal.

But it won't be easy getting there. Cline admitted that, if she has one disadvantage as a ski cross racer, besides not having a traditional grounding in alpine skiing, it's that she constantly misses her kids.

"It's hard to (go from) soft, lovable mom, to cut throat competitor," the single mom said. "It's a challenge."

And a sacrifice. But for Cline, it's worth it.

"When I had my son, I kind of thought life was over. And then I had my daughter and I was pretty sure my life was over. And then all of the sudden I had this opportunity," she said. "Being able to do this, win, lose or draw, Olympics or no Olympics, I'm so incredibly fortunate. It almost brings tears to my eyes to be able to be here."

Cline isn't sure what the future holds after this season. But one thing is certain, she will spend some more time with her kids.

"I'm going to tell my kids to play chess and become accountants," she said, with a laugh.

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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