Inspiration on the mind

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Four months after laying to rest his coach, mentor and best friend, John Kucera paid tribute to Jason Lapierre the best way he could.

By making history.

Shocking the ski world by becoming the first Canadian to win a World Cup super-G on home soil, the 22-year-old Calgarian fought back tears as he dedicated his dream day to the man who helped get him there.

"Jason Lapierre was an amazing person -- I thought of him right away ... he's probably the biggest reason I'm here today," said the Bishop Carroll grad whose previous best was a 12th in a World Cup combined.

"It's still emotional. It's too bad he couldn't be here to see this. It's my first huge result. It would have meant just as much to him."

On July 19, while Kucera was packing to leave for team training in Chile, he received a phone call informing him that while Lapierre was riding his bike along Hwy 1A outside Cochrane, he was struck and killed by a passing motorist who had suffered a stroke and veered into him.

Lapierre was 34.

Devastated by the news, Kucera changed his plans so he could piece together a nine-minute slideshow tribute to the man who inspired him to pursue greatness.

During a stirring eulogy at Canada Olympic Park, Kucera spoke of how 'Lapp,' who was his Calgary Alpine Racing Club coach, helped him through everything.

"John said at the eulogy he came home and was worn out and disappointed from the Olympics and got back to having fun with Jason and it really rejuvenated him," recalled Alpine Canada president Ken Read of the emotional scene.

"He finished the year in flying colours, beating guys at nationals who'd been on the podium in their specialties. That's the lesson he got from Jason: Keeping that spirit of why we do it all.

"Any athlete will tell you there's someone at the grassroots level that set them on a path to excellence, who not only identified them but also gave them the tools and love for the sport."

Lapierre clearly did that.

"He always believed in me from the beginning, even at times when I found it hard to believe in myself," wrote Kucera in a blogspot dedicated to Lapierre's memory.

"His strength and direction helped me find my way through some tough obstacles. Lapp was the most influential person in my life, he helped me become the person I am today."

A World Cup champion.

The 5-ft. 9-in., 175-lb. Kucera was understandably overwhelmed when presented with a cheque for close to $30,000 and a one-year lease from GM to replace "the 1986 piece of junk I'm driving right now with about 300,000 km on it."

"I always told people my dream race would be to win on home soil," said Kucera, whose mom and dad stood with tears in their eyes in the finish area. "To do it in front of friends and family was all the more special. To stand on the podium (was) an amazing feeling. Especially when the anthem was playing and I saw my home club and all the young kids -- it was overwhelming."

Sadly, the one face he didn't see was Lapps' -- the first one he thought of when his lifelong dream had been reached.


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