Heil and her man

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

Behind all the glitzy and glamorous Hollywood celebs, there are the little people who make it happen. They're often the ones most responsible for putting the shine in the star. Scott Livingston is no little person, nor was the challenge he took on a small one. Jennifer Heil is certainly the star of the show, the reigning World Cup champion on the women's moguls circuit and the best bet for Canada to claim gold heading into the world championships of freestyle skiing next month in Finland.

Livingston deserves his fair share of credit for turning the Spruce Grove sensation into the queen of the bumps and jumps.

After all, he played a big part in saving her career.

The pair met five years ago when Heil was just starting to suffer from shin splints and back pain. In 2003, the problems had become so devastating that Heil decided to take a year off the tour, heal and refocus on her next goal - the 2006 Winter Olympics. Livingston's job was to make it happen.

"I found she had some issues with her flexibility and that she had a physical imbalance in her spine," said Livingston, an accomplished fitness consultant whose main responsibilities up until this season were looking after the recoveries of injured members of the Montreal Canadiens.

"Her problems weren't really significant for you and me, but for what she was doing, they were. It is such a high-performance sport that requires a lot of leg power and strength and a lot of flexibility. Without that flexibility, she couldn't do the tricks that she should have been able to do. Our plan all along was for her to compete in the World Cup without being in any pain."

Two years ago, Livingston put the plan into action and the difference for Heil was almost immediate. Before the 2004 season began, Heil went back to Montreal and Livingston put her through the paces again - but the bar was significantly raised.

"I could feel my strength increase, and that has translated into my skiing," said Heil during a break in her hectic globetrotting schedule. "And it's more than just my strength. I was stronger, and that improved my skills, made me able to go faster and hold my form better. I was able to work on my flexibility and that paid off in my jumps."

Heil certainly wasn't out of shape by everyday, ''Joe on the street'' standards. But to compete against the world's best she needed an edge. Livingston knew the answer was within her. All Heil required was a way to get it out.

"In the beginning I needed to get my muscles balanced," explained Heil. "I got a strong base and then applied what I learned from the first year with him to this last off-season. It was all about getting my back strong with squats and then getting into plyometrics, speed work and core flexibility. It wasn't really about getting bigger, it was my overall strength.

"It's so important to be totally in shape because it's such a long tour. Sometimes you get four hours sleep so you need to be conditioned or you're not going to make it to the end of the season."

The sweat in the gym has paid off again this year as Heil captured her second straight World Cup title and is the odds-on favourite for the world championship crown. But the hard work in the off-season won't slow down.

"We've achieved what we wanted to achieve, but it's only going to go onward and upward," hinted Livingston.

"As a high-performance athlete, you have to get more and more fit.

''She's gone from plyometrics and getting her quick feet and now we'll work in pilates and layering in some other new things. Two years ago we built the foundation and the first year we built the performance.

''Jen has such a great work ethic, and now we've got her balanced out where her focus can be on skiing and she doesn't have to be focused on why she's in pain. Feeling good is half the battle."

Heil's victories this season haven't exactly filled her bank account. A couple more zeroes on each of the $1,700 US wins would have brightened an already electric toothy grin, but the greatest prize of all could be dangling from her neck when she hits the hill in Turin, Italy, for the next Winter Olympics.

"Part of the reason I took the year (2003) off was to be ready for 2006," said Heil, who placed fourth at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake without any of the benefits from Livingston's training regimen.

"I'm trying to take every race and learn as much as I can from them.

''I know right now I'm much more equipped for the next Olympics than I was last time."


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