By Michael Mastarciyan
The first thing you should know about Canadian slalom specialist Erin Mielzynski is that her family name is a lot easier to pronounce than it looks.
Being the bearer of an alphabet-enriched name myself that is open to multiple pronunciation interpretations, I think it’s a necessary step before delving deeper into Ms. Mielzynski’s history and character – both for the sake of accuracy, as well as the countless smiles it will put on the faces Mielzynskis around the world when they hear their family’s handle, handled correctly, when it’s pronounced on loudspeakers, televisions, and radios covering slalom races involving Canada’s newest alpine ski star.
So, for the record, the correct pronunciation of Mielzynski – in contextual relation to Erin Mielzynski (as I’m sure pronunciations may vary from country to country) – is: mill-ZIN-skee.With the appellative formalities related to Ms. Mielzynski’s family name now completed let’s move onto some basic information about the 21-year-old Canadian who made national headlines and led television news broadcasts in Canada last Sunday when she became the first Canadian in 41 years to win a World Cup slalom race (Canada’s last World Cup slalom winner was Betsy Clifford in 1971).
Ms. Mielzynski grew up in the flatlands of central Ontario just outside Toronto and now calls Guelph, Ontario home. She honed her racing skills at a ski club called Georgian Peaks that’s actually located on the Niagara Escarpment which is more cliff than mountain (top ski vertical here is about 230 metres). Despite the obvious obstacles and challenges of being a ski racer from a vertically challenged part of the globe, Ms. Mielzynski persevered and joined the Canadian Alpine Ski Team in 2008.
For teammate Marie-Michele Gagnon, Mielzynski’s rise up the ranks is no surprise and the direct result of an incredible work ethic and focused attitude.
“Erin is the kind of person who is extremely organized, hard working and dedicated to the sport, a true professional. But she also knows how to have fun and is really great to be around. She’s also really easy to room with, and that’s always a bonus when you spend a lot of time together on the road in close quarters,” Gagnon says.
Mielzynski’s first dip in the World Cup pool came in November 2009 when she made her World Cup debut at a slalom held in Aspen, Colorado and cracked the top-30 on her first try – finishing 30th after starting in 60th position. Then in 2010 Ms. Mielzynski had the distinct honour of representing her country at home at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in slalom, finishing in 20th position.
Then, last February in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Ms. Mielzynski served notice as a future slalom star when she won the 2nd run at the World Championships by almost a full second. Her final result was only a 16th place, but it was an important confidence booster for the 20-year-old looking to make a name, and a true sign of bigger and better things to come.
Now with her first victory under her belt, Ms. Mielzynski says she’s hungry for more, but I’m guessing most of you figured that one out, and as most of you know, the 5 Things series is more about the ski racer than it is about ski racing. So for the sake of brevity, I’m sure most of you have other stuff to get to, here’s five (more) things you should know about Erin Mielzynski….
1. ERIN IS A WORLD CLASS WATER SKIER AND WON A SILVER MEDAL AT THE UNDER-17 WORLD WATER SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS IN 2006!
“I started water skiing when I was two. My parents wanted to get me used to the water so I would be on a boom by the side of the boat. I would have two skis on and my Mom would sing to me while I was there so I wasn’t scared, and that’s how it started. I started competing when I was six and I was coached by my Mom until I was nine or ten. When I really started competing I loved it. My parents would give me extra allowance money when I learned a new trick so it was pretty cool. My favourite was jumping, and that’s what I ended up being best at, but I did slaloming and tricking also.”
“I went to the Junior Worlds when I was about 16 and won a silver in jump and then I won the Junior Masters in jumping when I was 17. I really love water skiing but I don’t do it any more because it’s not the type of thing you just pick up and do. To do it you need a boat driver, a spotter and a course. I’m still really passionate about jumping but it would take a bit of time to get comfortable doing what I used to do. It would take at least a week or two to actually be comfortable enough to go at it like I used to, so I don’t do it anymore. But I loved it when I was younger and I loved all my friends there.”
“When I water skied I didn’t crash very often. When I was jumping, I had one or two minor crashes, but when you crash it’s really bad and you’re bruised. When you hear people saying crashing on water is like hitting cement - you can believe it, it’s totally true. It’s like landing on concrete, then sinking into it, then not knowing where you are. Sometimes you get so disoriented that you start swimming down instead of up. It can be pretty awkward when you’re upside down with a helmet full of water and you’re floundering."
2. ERIN HAS NEVER HAD A VACATION AT A WARM WEATHER HOLIDAY DESTINATION! NEVER!“I’ve never, ever, been on a warm place vacation if you can believe it. I’ve only gone to two places in my life without skiing in those places. Everywhere else I’ve been has always been related to ski training or competition, either on water or on snow. And the two places I went to that didn’t involve training or competition weren’t warm weather places. If I could put money aside, I think I’d really like to go to southeast Asia or somewhere like that. I don’t like crowded places so it would probably be somewhere near the ocean or at a beach. It would have to be more of an underground place, not a place where everybody goes for spring break with the volleyball nets and pools and stuff like that. Ideally, it would be a place where I could climb or surf.”
3. ERIN’S DREAM AFTER SKI RACING IS A CAREER AS A VETERINARIAN!“This is something probably no one knows about me - I want to become a veterinarian after I finish my ski racing career. I think that my goal of being a vet is one thing that people that really know me would say is the thing people should know most about me. I love all types of animals and I beg to go into a pet store whenever I see one. Whenever someone asks what I want for a gift I say a bird or a dog! This summer I spent a few days with some vets and fell in love with the profession. The surgeries didn't even make me queasy! I even watched some vets perform an ACL reconstruction on a dog! I think that is the thing most people don't know, teammates and even my coaches!”
4. ERIN IS A BOOKAHOLIC!
“One of my favourite things to do is to walk around a bookstore or to look at my big shelf of books at home. I love just sitting down with a cup of tea and reading, escaping into different worlds. I’m totally a bookaholic and I love collecting books. I’ve always really loved reading and I always read before bed.”“I just read The Hunger Games which I really loved, just for the suspense. I also read The Bronze Horseman recently and I loved it too. Usually I read historical fiction. Water For Elephants was another book I really enjoyed. Our whole team reads a lot and we all switch books and talk about the characters, so it’s even more fun. Eve (Routier) will read books in French and then tell me if they’re good and then I read them in English. Anna (Goodman) Mitch (Marie-Michele Gagnon), Britt (Janyk) and I would always share books. Now Maddie (Irwin) is reading a lot too, so we’re always trading books and talk about how much we hated (she laughs) the other person’s book or how much the other person’s book was great.”
5. ERIN IS THE WORLD’S WORST MOUNTAIN BIKER!“I’m a horrible, horrible mountain biker, worse than you can imagine, THE WORST ever. I think Dustin Cook said it best when he said every time I go mountain biking, they need a spatula to scrape me off the ground (she laughs)! I never mountain biked much growing up in Ontario, and so when I went to Fernie, BC after making the National Team the first thing they decided to do was to take us on a mountain bike ride. So I put together a bike and I had no idea what I was doing. When we went out I lost the other girls right away because I fell off the first hill that was maybe two feet high. We started climbing another hill, I started to overexert myself, as I’m known to do most of the time, and I had an asthma attack! So I kept walking up the hill because I was scared that if I stopped I’d pass out. It was really hot, like 35 Celsius or something, and I kind of got lost. I couldn’t find anyone and I couldn’t get back on the bike so eventually I decided to just go back down the mountain. I was thinking they’d kick me off the team and panicking but then I found my coaches and they weren’t mad at all. So the coaches took me down a single track that was much easier and five feet into it I flew over the handle bars (she says with a huge laugh)! So that was my first camp with the National Team, we went mountain biking once or twice a week and I flew over the handle bars or hugged a tree on every ride. My heart rate was like 205 every day. We’d have to get off the bikes and stop because my heart rate was so high!
“I don’t like not being good at things, so I tried to get better at it last summer with my boyfriend and he started bunny-hopping and he’s really good. So I said, ‘Oh I can do that!’ So I start bunny-hopping and tried to go higher and bunny-hopped once and twice and my handlebars turned and I went over them! Landed on my hip, cracked my helmet, and I was in big time pain! I couldn’t walk upstairs to the bathroom. I couldn’t work out the next day, I couldn’t do anything! (she laughs). I scraped myself up real good that day!”
Marie Michele Gagnon & Erin Mielzynski