Q&A Marie-Michele Gagnon
Canada’s Marie-Michèle Gagnon, aka Mitch, came back from a shoulder injury and reestablished herself among the best skiers in the World. Here is an interview with this vibrant personality of the ladies' World Cup Tour.
First, let’s have a look back at your two previous seasons. You suffered a shoulder injury at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and had a tough 2014/15 season. Where did you find the motivation to keep fighting? What was missing to reach your best level again?
To best answer this question, I must put you in context. Following the shoulder injury in Sochi, we decided with the medical staff that surgery was not necessary. My shoulder passed all the tests and seemed really strong. Unfortunately, there was an incident in the gym after that fall. I dislocated my shoulder again, and from then on, maybe a few times more while skiing, mainly at World Cup competitions. Having an unstable shoulder isn’t something you feel all the time, so I decided to continue racing the rest of the season. I felt pretty confident it wouldn’t affect me one bit…but it did! I am no superwoman after all. It affected me mostly on the mental side. Our sport is a risk-taking one and I soon realized that I wasn’t taking any risks in training to make sure that shoulder would stay in its socket. If you don’t practice high speed and tight lines in training, good luck just miraculously getting two of your best runs down on race day.
So anyhow, I was able to find motivation through the people close to me, my boyfriend (Travis Ganong), family, teammates and coaches. I also had a lot of encouragement through my competitors from various countries. We are lucky that ski racing is such a friendly sport.
What was missing to reach my best level was a stable shoulder and a clear mind. So therefore, I finally decided to get that shoulder fixed once and for all as soon as the races were over.
After two years, you found the key and got back on the podium. What did the 3rd place in the Slalom in Crans-Montana and the win in the Alpine Combined in Soldeu-El Tarter mean to you?
To be back on the podium after 2 years feels so relieving, exciting, grand! It means all the hard work I put in to get back to my best level paid off. It wasn’t always easy, spending over 8 hours a day in the gym in Calgary. doing rehab as well as physio and without forgetting to get in shape for the upcoming season. I made big sacrifices, but I totally forgot about it all when I stepped on that podium.
You claimed your two career-wins in Alpine Combined, and you already topped the season ranking of the discipline in 2014 (unfortunately, no globe was awarded). What do you like most in this discipline? Why do you think the Alpine Combined is not so popular anymore?
I have always considered myself an all-eventer, though my main focus has always been on the technical disciplines. It was the path I was told and I still believe it’s the one to follow to become a big threat for the overall one day. I actually made it in the Canadian Team thanks to my SG results in the beginning, but I have always loved the speed and adrenaline part of skiing. My slalom results are fairly strong and consistent. This, combined with a thirst for speed, has developed me into a somewhat Alpine Combined threat. I like this discipline because it requires a variety of different skills, as well as the ability to switch your brain from SG, DH mode to ninja slalom attack mode.
I think Alpine Combined isn’t as popular because rare are the skiers who dedicate enough time to train all the disciplines. Alpine skiing is such a competitive sport that one must find their trade and spend long hours perfecting it before they can truly be dominant. Because of that, there is less competition in that event, though I believe it is no less difficult to win an Alpine Combined than any other discipline.
This season, for the first time, you reached the Top 15 in three disciplines (SL, GS, AC). Only six ladies achieved this in 2015/16. What’s the secret to become a good all-round skier and be constant in several disciplines?
One answer: Perseverance! It might be cheesy, but it’s true. It took me over 8 years of racing on the World Cup to get there and the fight isn’t over, not even close. I have much higher aspiration than ranking top 15 in three disciplines, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I have also learned that consistency can be best achieved when one has a good plan and really sticks to it. It’s easy to get side-tracked after a couple of bad races and want to change things or train harder. You must find a plan that you are 100% committed to and fully trust.
The Alpine Combined is on the World Championships and on the Olympic program. So you have two serious medal chances in the upcoming seasons. Is this your focus? Or are the slalom and giant slalom equally important (both at World Champs / Olympics and in the regular World Cup season)?
Alpine Combined, Giant Slalom and Slalom are all equally important to me during the World Cup season as well as at the big events. They are all interconnected in a way. When I’m skiing good in GS, my other disciplines all boost from it. Same goes for SG, the more I train it, the more my GS is improving.
Coming from Canada, you and your team spend most of the winter on the road together, and from what we can see, you hold on together as a family. How important is this atmosphere for you? What’s your role within the team?
My team is my family on the road. My teammates are my sisters, my physio becomes sort of like a mom (or big sister…sorry Sarah haha!), my coaches and technicians become my dads :) We are all in this together; travelling the world, staying in hotels, celebrating Christmas and New Years away from home, celebrating the wins and helping each other through the bad days. My role on the team together with Erin, as the oldest girls, is to help guide the younger ones. It’s an individual sport, but we are always there to give advice. Most of my teammates would say my main role is to bug them in the morning with my quick-out-of-bed, turn-the-lights-on, break-out-dance-party energy… I will stop when I’m dead :)
Your social media posts prove that you are a passionate and assiduous outdoor sportswoman. What is your favourite activity in summer? Can you also calm down and relax, or is everything high-pace? How does your typical day look like?
My favourite activity in the summer is mountain biking-hiking-paddleboarding-skitouring-tennis-swimming…ever heard of it? It’s quite relaxing actually But seriously, yes I can calm down. I’m actually really good at sleeping, I sleep a lot! I love spending my down times at the beach, in my hammock or hot tub! I am also taking a university class to change my mind and start using my brain a bit more!
A typical day is usually between 3-5 hours of workout with a mix of gym, cardio, field work or slackline. I try to get in 1-2 hours of my class or catching up on emails and such. I usually relax at the beach every day for an hour too! But it depends, I don’t have a set routine. Having a house is also a lot of work, I end up spending a lot of my down time taking care of all the things we should have been taught in school, like how to file in for your taxes and how to order the perfect carpet. Help :)