PHOTOGRAPHY: Alpine Canada
Erik Guay realizes, now at the age of 33, that he is a veteran ski racer. Part of it is the grueling post-race recovery. Even more telling: his mindset of yearning for home rather than a wanderlust that had defined much of the first three decades of his life.
“One thing I loved about ski racing when I was younger,” Guay said just before Christmas as he rehabbed for his season debut in January, “was the traveling and being able to ski all over the world. Now, I just want to get home as fast as possible and be with the girls and see them grow up.”
These days, as the Montreal native continues the slow climb back from injuries that saw him miss the first third of the 2014-15 World Cup slate, Guay is a father first, racer second. Guay and wife Karen welcomed their third baby girl — Marlo — in March, joining Logann (age 5) and Leni (age 2) in a household full of active personalities.
The biggest change in Guay’s life with the addition of baby Marlo? “Functioning on four hours of sleep is not ideal,” he admitted, “but you can make it work.”
Marlo’s birth, Guay says, was the zenith of an up-and-down 2013-14 season. Last December, the Mont Tremblant product broke Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski’s Canadian record for World Cup podiums of 20. A month later, he injured his left knee in Wengen, Switzerland, and suffered the consequences at the Sochi Olympics, finishing out of the medals.
Then he won the March 1 Kvitfjell downhill — his fifth career World Cup win — and returned to Canada for Marlo’s birth.
“It’s been great,” Guay said. “I had a lot of ups and downs this year and last year — I hurt myself in Wengen, had that down at the Olympics in Sochi, finished with a victory in Norway, so a lot of ups and downs, then I came back in the spring and we had a lil girl. I’ve been home since March. I’m getting to see all the months of the season. It’s kind of special.”
Special, too, is simply being able to call himself a ski racer, after an upbringing where time on the slopes was integral to the family chemistry. Guay and his brothers Kristian and Stefan were coached by their father, Conrad. His mom, Ellen, is an instructor at Tremblant. Stefan now is a coach with the national team.
“We grew up in a skiing family atmosphere,” Guay said. “I get to appreciate it more now that I have my own kids. This spring we skied with my mom and dad and the girls, and it was pretty special to have three generations out on the hill. There are not a lot of sports I can think of where you can do that.”
Guay has savoured his time with the girls, but he’s eager to return to competition following two offseason surgeries — arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in March and a procedure to replace cartilage and bone on the same knee in June. The rehab meant a no-go for the Lake Louise and Beaver Creek speed races, but Guay — who has switched to Head skis after years with Atomic — is targeting Wengen (Jan. 16) for a potential return to World Cup action.
“My goals this season are to be able to come back and to be competitive,” he stressed. “I’m not looking to win a world championship or anything like that. I don’t think it’s really feasible given that now it’s halfway through the race season and I’m not even on snow. I would love to be back (for the Vail/Beaver Creek worlds), but have no thoughts of walking away with a medal.”
The 2010 super-G crystal globe winner, Guay will dedicate himself for another Olympic shot in 2018 at PyeongChang, where he hopes to ease the burden of finishing a mere .03 from the podium at the Vancouver 2010 Games.
Guay’s support group — spearheaded by his wife — helps him cope with those setbacks and stay on target for the long haul ahead. “She understands, too, that the ski racing thing doesn’t last forever,” Guay said. “If I can get another four years out of it, after that I will be here full time to terrorize her. But she’s been fundamental in supporting me.”
For family man Erik, retirement will come soon enough — perhaps soon after the 2018 Olympics. But his competition lifestyle and values instilled in his youth will pay dividends as his daughters chase their dreams.
“I’m really fortunate to have this upbringing,” Guay said. “I’m very lucky my parents instilled good values in me, and I try to do the same in my kids.”