Mary Benson

Mary Benson

Skier relishes new role as mentor

With more big races under her belt than most of her fellow competitors – including the Paralympic Games – South Surrey para-nordic skiier Mary Benson will be taking on a new role when at the Canada Games next week – that of a mentor.

Most athletes at the Games – which began last weekend in Halifax – are teenagers, but because of an age-exemption for para-nordic competitors, Benson, 50, will strap on the skis, too.

“I will be the grandma at the Games,” Benson said in an email from Vancouver Island last week, where she was training, and also competing in a Coast Cup race.

Benson, who will be assisted at the Games by partner Kathy Oxner, said she agreed to head to Halifax – her hometown – in order to help drum up interest in her sport.

“The idea is to try and get a higher profile so we can recruit new athletes for para cross-country skiing in standing, sit-ski and visually impaired categories,” she explained. “My plan is to work with the skiers and share my experiences… to help them along.”

Benson certainly has experience from which to draw from. An avid recreational cross-country skier, she suffered a head injury in her late-30s which nearly killed her. Benson spent the better part of two years rehabbing her motor skills, all of which had to be relearned.

Eventually, on the urging of Oxner, she took up cross-country skiing again, and progressed to where she was competing at the para-nordic races in Europe, and represented Canada last spring at the 2010 Paralympic Games.

Though her story is certain to inspire younger para-nordic skiing hopefuls, Benson has plenty of practical advice to impart as well – from technical tips to how to find funding and sponsorship, which is often tough for amateur athletes in this country.

“I truly believe in giving back. I was fortunate enough to have people around me who gave so generously of their time and expertise. Now it’s my turn, and I’m excited to be working with new skiers,” she said, adding that a few “keeners” have already taken an interest, thanks to a pair of clinics run by Benson’s ski club earlier this year.

“I’ve always loved skiiing. Now I love it from a new angle, as well.”

At the Canada Games, Benson will compete in the 7.5-km classic race, as well as the 800-m spring. The event wraps up Feb. 27.