Kelsey Serwa got her start in skiing because her parents made a trade a with the Kelowna Ski Club. The Serwa’s, who own an excavation company, dug a foundation for the Club in exchange for a year of ski lessons for their three children. Now, they joke it was the most expensive job they’ve ever done because it led to a life of skiing. Today, Kelsey Serwa is one of the best ski cross athletes in the world. In 2011, she was named ski cross World Champion and X-Games Gold Medalist. Last year in Sochi, she won a Silver medal.
When she was eighteen and training as part of the Canadian development team for alpine skiing, a coach suggested she try ski cross at the national championships taking place two days later. Kelsey booked her flight the following day and travelled across the country to compete in her first ever ski cross race. When she approached the first feature, a Wu-Tang, she didn’t know how to get over it. “I just sky bombed, overshot the landing on the other side, and hit my face on my knee. "I was like, ‘Okay, there’s some work to do on this.’” Despite the rude introduction, her attraction to the sport was immediate.
There was a steep learning curve at first, she told us. “The whole concept of ‘You need to be in the top two to advance,’ it didn’t really register in my mind. I had the attitude that if you’re not first, you’re last. Even if I was in a safe place to advance onto the next round, I would make risky passes, and usually blow out on the course.” She’s become a smarter, more calculated athlete over the years, but the sport can be unpredictable. Staying safe and being successful in ski cross requires mastery of the few variables that are within your control.
Before every race, Kelsey and her teammates spend a great deal of time getting to know the course. She studies every inch and identifies her passing zones in training. That way, should she need to get around somebody, she’s able to avoid a collision and accelerate into the opportunity. Kelsey’s training also includes gymnastics to increase spatial awareness and drills that require she dodge flying objects, so she’s learned to think on her feet.
“You have control over yourself, but you don’t have control over the three other people that are surrounding you. Once you’re on the course, it’s all about instinct and reaction. You’ve got to make the right decision at the right time.”
“I found ski cross extremely appealing because you couldn’t plan for what was going to happen down the course.” Among the things you can’t plan for is getting hurt. Before going on to win the World Championships in 2011, Kelsey broke her back at the X-Games. Before the 2014 Olympics, she injured her left knee and had to undergo surgery. To keep the fear of re-injuring herself at bay, Kelsey worked closely with a sport psychologist. “It’s about reminding yourself that you can do it,” she says. In those moments of doubt, she would recall everything she did to ensure she was ready to return to competition. For elite athletes, injury can be especially emotionally devastating, and the rehabilitation process discouraging. Kelsey found her motivation in wanting to be ready to compete at the upcoming Olympics. Simply participating was not an option. With this mindset, it’s no surprise that Kelsey would not only rehab her injuries in time to compete at the Games, but then go on to win Silver in Sochi.