A 21-year-old winter Olympian from Calgary was in Brooks Thursday to visit with Holy Family Academy students.
Shannon-Ogbani Abeda talked to students about his slalom and giant slalom experience representing his parents’ East African birth country of Eritrea at the winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
His connection with the school developed after HFA Eritrea students sent him a video wishing him good luck. It concluded by stating “see you in Brooks.”
School vice-principal Mike Fleck recently contacted the Olympian and arrangements were made for him to come to the school last week.
After talking to Fleck, Abeda said he realized it would be a good opportunity to connect with those kids.
The Fort McMurray native told students about his background as an alpine skier and how he started and his Olympic journey representing Eritrea.
“I also told them the importance of sport and how it teaches you discipline and getting involved in activities. It is good for your health and it really teaches you a lot of values.”
The second generation Canadian said he had an opportunity to represent Eritrea competing at the World Youth Games at age 15. He wanted to use the event to put Eritrea on the map and promote winter sports to the people of Eritrea living in North America and Europe.
He said the Games were amazing just being able to experience the Olympic culture.
“To be part of that was just nothing short of amazing,” he said.
He met a lot of athletes from different countries and learned about countries he did not know existed.
While he was born in Canada, he shares both identities.
Initially his goal was to compete at the Sochi Olympics but things didn’t work out.
In 2016 Abeda had a skiing injury that sidelined him for a year and put his career in jeopardy.
He ended up tearing almost every single ligament in his knee and had a partial fracture of his tibia.
The first thing that went through his head was it was a minor injury but after surgery he realized he had a long road to go.
“A lot of days it was painful and difficult mostly mentally. I didn’t know if I would be able to recuperate on time to make my (Olympic) qualification standards.”
On top of this, there were complications four months after his surgery which required him to have a second surgery.
“That really set me back even further and that’s when I was really thinking about just quitting.”
He believes anything can be accomplished in life. You just have to be persistent and learn from your mistakes.
With the support of his mother Ariam, friends and other family members who were there to push him, he was able to get back on the snow in time.
“I had a really good support team and they helped me make my qualification standard.”
Making the Olympic standard was reached at his final race of last year.
Abeda starting skiing at age three and told his mother at age five that he wanted to go to the Olympics one day.
“I like the adrenalin rush that I get when I am going down the hill and carving turns. I really like to be able to push myself every single turn and every single day trying to improve myself. I think that is what I enjoy about skiing. You can always make improvements and you can always push yourself.”
He said it has taught him a lot about the values of self-discipline and earning what you work for.
It was not until he walked into the stadium carrying Eritrea’s flag that he believed he had reached his goal of competing in an Olympics.
It was a proud moment for both him and his mother who also traveled to South Korea.
“It meant a lot that I was able to walk in there, carry the flag and honour the sacrifices my parents and many Eritreas made.”
Ariam, who came to Canada in 1990 as a refugee, said she was filled with pride watching her son carry the Eritrea flag into the stadium.
She enjoyed the fact that a lot of countries put their differences aside for the Olympic experience.
He said the opening ceremonies were amazing. He said the people of Korea are very friendly, giving and work very hard. They are very similar to Canadians.
“Even now, it hasn’t really fully sunken in that I attended the Olympics and I achieved the goal that I worked for many years.”
Conditions for his slalom and giant slalom events were fantastic. He said he didn’t expect they would be that good from starting in the back.
“It was a good experience for me to be able to compete with some of the best athletes in the world.”
Abeda said he was happy with his giant slalom results considering his goal was to ski at the best of his abilities.
“I believe I accomplished that.”
Unfortunately, his slalom event did not go well for him. He had hip issues the morning of the race and was in a lot of pain.
Competing at the Olympics rates as one of his biggest accomplishments but qualifying in itself was even a bigger highlight.
Abeda is now focusing on completing a degree in computer science but is not ruling out competing in another Winter Olympics.