Eight years ago, Wendy Massie rounded up her kids – Andrew, Alex, Jamie and Jeffrey – and the family headed out to Whistler, British Columbia for March break. They arrived to find out the 2010 Paralympics were on and the family got the opportunity to see the skiers on the hills and watch the evening medal ceremonies in the village.
“We were truly amazed and inspired by what we saw,” the Barrie mom said. “At the time we had no idea that just a year later our lives would be turned upside down and that within two Olympic cycles, (Alex) would be a Paralympic athlete himself.”
A wakeboarding accident in 2011 resulted in Alex losing his left leg below the knee. But this Friday the Barrie native and snowboarder will march into the opening of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea as a member of the Canadian team. For mom it will be a moment she knows she will always cherish.
“Being a part of Alex’s journey has been a privilege and a wonderful experience, and even though he has been on this track for the last few years, now that we are here, I can hardly believe that it is real,” she said.
Neither can Alex. He’s looked forward and worked toward this day for some time.
“It’s crazy,” said the 22-year-old, who left for South Korea last Friday with his mom and will be joined by the rest of the family in time for the opening of the Games. “It’s been a real long four-year journey and to be here now it seems really surreal. I’m super excited and to get a silver medal at my last event and solidify my spot on the team really helped boost my confidence going into the Paralympics.”
While Alex went snowboarding, hockey was his first love growing up. He spent nine years playing rep hockey, winning a couple of York-Simcoe championships along the way. When he wasn’t at his own games, he would be at the Barrie Molson Centre on Thursday and Saturday nights watching the Barrie Colts, the OHL club his dad, Jamie, would own for more than a decade.
When Alex watched the World Junior Hockey Championships on television at Christmas, he always wondered what it would be like to represent his country.
“Growing up I truly dreamed of representing Canada at the world stage,” he said. “I always wanted to go to world juniors as a kid. Getting to watch (Canada) just dominate for multiple years in a row kind of solidified that for me. So now, to have my own opportunity to go and walk behind the flag and to fight for Team Canada, and hopefully, at the end of two weeks, hear O Canada play and see the flag get raised would be something.”
As for setting goals at the Paralympics, while a podium finish would be a dream come true the snowboarder just wants to bring all he can to the hill.
“Just go out and give my all, and if I leave it all on the course I’ll be happy,” he said. “I’ll be happy and won’t care what my position is as long as I do my best. If I kick myself out of the race because I fall, then I’ll be a little upset. But If I put my whole heart out there and lay it on the line and I lose against at guy head-to-head, that’s all I could ask of myself.”
Alex, who returned to snowboarding after his accident, decided to pursue a competitive career in the sport and he hasn’t looked back since. He won gold at the Alberta Provincials and the Canadian Para-snowboard Championships in 2014. The following year he completed his first competitive Para-snowboard season.
Consistently he’s found his way into the world’s top five, winning bronze medals at the 2015 world championships and X Games. In 2016, he captured bronze medals at IPC Snowboard World Cup events in Trentino, Italy and again at Big White in B.C., while taking home a silver medal at the X Games. Then, at the 2017 world championships at Big White, he finished fourth in the snowboardcross and sixth in banked slalom.
Alex admits it was tough waiting to learn if he would make the Paralympic team, but when news came down he had on Feb. 20 he admits he was almost as relieved as he was thrilled.
“It’s a weight off the shoulders even just to be going,” he said, who has stuck to his usual training routine before gearing things down a little bit last month. “I didn’t realize just how big a weight it was off my shoulders until they announced the team and I could kind of sit back and take a breath and go, ‘Alright, relax!'”
Although oldest brother Andrew won’t be able to head to South Korea, Alex is thrilled that he’ll have the rest of his family all there to watch him fulfil a dream.
“It’s definitely a special feeling just to have the whole crew coming over,” he said. “My mom lived with me in the hospital (after the accident) and my brother (Jamie) didn’t leave my side for the first couple of days either. To have them all coming over it’s going to be really cool.”
Wendy is thankful for all the support Alex has received and continues to receive from friends and the community of Barrie. She’s so proud of her son.
“I know that watching him walk into the stadium behind the Canadian flag will be an incredible moment,” she said. “My heart will be filled with pride, but I will be overwhelmed with pure joy because I know how truly proud and honoured Alex is to have this opportunity.”
Alex will be competing on March 12 and March 15. He hopes those in Barrie and other Canadians will spend time watching the Games because they are certain to be inspired much like he and his family were back in 2010 at Whistler. This year marks the first time the Paralympics will be completely aired on CBC.
“Everybody talks about how inspiring the Olympics are and then you see someone go at almost the same time, maybe missing five or 10 toes, or an arm, it’s something a little different to see that,” he said. “It’s a whole new level of inspiring.”
The closing ceremonies for this year’s Winter Paralympics will be on March 18. More than 550 athletes will be participating in 80 events in six sports.
Photo: Barrie native and Canadian snowboarder Alex Massie will be competing in his first Paralympic Winter Games. The opening ceremony for this year’s Games are on March 9. Photo courtesy of Wendy Massie.