I’m certain I’ll never speak to a more grounded Olympian than Whitehorse born-and-raised Emily Nishikawa.
I caught Nishikawa on the phone the day before her flight to Toblach, Italy. There, she will train at high altitude and compete in a World Cup on February 1 and 2. It’s Nishikawa’s last stop before Sochi, Russia, where she’ll compete on the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Team in the 2014 Winter Olympics
But how can a 24-year old focus on the World Cup, with the Olympics so close on the horizon?
“The World Cup is a great opportunity and the highest level of racing in the world; I tend to take one race at a time,” says Nishikawa. “I need to stick to the process, which is: train, race, recover, train, race, recover.”
Sticking to the process has helped her maintain a sense of normalcy through this crazily exciting time.
“I was on a high for a few days with the excitement, but was exhausted at the same time,” she says. “I’m getting back my normal, regular training routine, now.”
It’s a training routine that Nishikawa manages to balance with other activities such as studying 2nd year psychology at Athabasca University. She typically works on one or two correspondence courses at a time while living and training in Canmore, Alberta.
“I love having my courses to do, it’s important to have something besides skiing going on,” she says. “I just keep everything in perspective and remember that the great thing about skiing is that it’s fun. I love skiing, and I love being with my teammates, who are also good friends.”
A support network of teammates and friends also help Nishikawa in the recovery part of training.
“During recovery I try to not just sit around and stress about skiing,” she says. “It’s important to go for coffee, hang out with friends, do my schoolwork, do something fresh.”
Without the well-earned recovery stage in the training cycle, an athlete’s mental and physical resources deplete.
“After a race, nutrition, having naps everyday, massages, and physical therapy help to keep the body in shape,” she says.
Family is also important.
“I’m so lucky to have grown up with such an active family,” says Nishikawa, “As kids, our parents took us out skiing on weekends and encouraged us to be active.”
Nishikawa credits her brother, cross-country skier Graham Nishikawa, as an inspiration.
“Graham is a great athlete and I followed in his footsteps by joining the Yukon Ski Team.”
Though Graham did not make the Olympic team, his encouragement for Emily didn’t waiver.
“Graham is so supportive of me, it’s definitely tough that he didn’t make the team, but ultimately, he’s thrilled for me and it’s all fine.”
The rest of Nishikawa’s family is also thrilled.
Through the Canadian Athlete Family Program (CAFP) created in 2010 by Petro-Canada, Nishikawa’s parents will be provided with tickets to see their daughter compete in Sochi.
Two tickets to just one Olympic cross-country skiing competition can cost up to 10,000 rubles, which is approximately CAN$320. Competition tickets are the only costs covered by CAFP, though. Nishikawa’s parents will be paying for their own flights and accommodation.
Along with her parents and teammates, Yukon Ski Team Head Coach and Sport Yukon Hall of Fame Inductee Alain Masson, will be in Sochi, working as a wax technician.
“It’s pretty special to know that Alain will be there, he is still a big part of my ski career,” Nishikawa says of her former coach. “Wax technicians are a super important part of our team; they are up so early every morning working hard for our team. They ensure our skis run as fast as they can in all conditions; there’s a real art and science to what they do.”
Masson may have a big job with Olympic ski conditions.
“I’ve heard the snow conditions (in Sochi) are similar to Whistler (British Columbia) where there’s usually tons of wet, heavy snow,” she says. “Sochi is actually pretty far south, so there are palm trees near the sea, but in the mountains there is snow.”
Considering the unfamiliar snow conditions, new places, and the new experiences awaiting her, what will Nishikawa pack in her Sochi-bound suitcase?
“Skis, poles, boots, all my ski and casual clothes, my homework, and books I like to read while traveling,” she says. “Also, sometimes when I’m in Europe, it’s hard to find familiar food, so I’ll take the teas and health-food bars that I like.”
And finally, Yukoners will be proud to know that while this Olympian has traveled far and wide, Nishikawa rates the local ski trails as world-class.
“Of course, growing up in Whitehorse, the ski trails in Whitehorse are dear to me,” Nishikawa says. “And honestly, I think they are some of the best in the world.”