An inside look at the life and ski racing career of Shona Rubens
Shona Rubens is not a typical 27-year-old. As a young, professional ski racer she was given the opportunity to travel the globe on the World Cup circuit and compete in two Winter Olympic Games.
But now she’s about to embark on a whole new career while giving back to the sport that started it all by running a summer camp for young girls who want to follow in her tracks.
Born in Australia, Rubens moved to Canada with her family at the age of three. Her parents were very outdoorsy people, she explains, and having never skied before it just seemed like the thing to do, living so close to the mountains. It didn’t take long before she, and her brother Christopher Rubens were enrolled in a ski racing program, and she says, “It just kind of escalated from there.”
The term escalated seems like an understatement. Jim Read, head coach of Sunshine Ski Club says, “I coached Shona when she was 12 and 13 years old. She was very talented and smart. She was one of those rare athletes that you only had to tell or show her how to do something once and she could pick it up.”
Talented indeed. In her early teenage years, Rubens was consistently winning races on both a provincial and national level.
All the winning never got the best of her though. A fellow competitor, Carmel McElroy says: “She was a very modest winner. The type of person you admired for balancing her competitive side with being the friendly teammate that wanted to see all of her friends do well. She was always very focused on the hill, but also knew how to relax and have fun with everyone.”
However, even at the top of her game, Rubens wasn’t always certain that she wanted to ski race professionally. Naturally, like any one at such a young age she struggled with the level of commitment required. She says, “I tried to quit a few times just cause I wanted to hang out with my friends more.” Luckily, her parents convinced her to continue, even if only one day a week.
Photo courtesy of Shona Rubens
Her dedication and hard work paid off. In 2006, at 19-years-old, she qualified to compete at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
“I was pretty young and I kind of felt like oh well the Olympics are not that big of a deal, its just like any other race because you’re racing with the same people you do everyday,” says Rubens.
That all changed however, when she walked out during the opening ceremonies.
Rubens says: “It kind of hit me like, ‘Wow this is big!’ This is something pretty incredible.”
It was that moment she recalls as being one of the highlights of her first Olympic experience.
Four years later, Rubens once again qualified to represent her country on home soil.
“I felt really ready to make Canada proud, might sound cheesy but there was so much energy in Whistler that it just really fuelled the fire,” says Rubens.“Being in your home country and coming through the finish line- it was wild. Even though I didn’t medal or wasn’t expected too all the people in the stands were so amazing and so supportive, so proud, it was amazing.”
Along with the fifteenth place finish at her first Lake Louise World Cup, she includes her 12th place finish in Whistler among her career highlights.
On that note, Rubens felt she was ready to retire saying, “At the end of Vancouver I felt like I had put my everything into skiing and that I was ready to try something else” – specifically, an intercontinental vacation.
In August 2010, just a few months after Rubens had retired, she decided embark on a yearlong adventure with her boyfriend. They purchased a Volkswagen van and drove from the northern most points of Canada to the southern point of Argentina living like self-proclaimed, “hippies.”
But lately, she’s been lured back to life as a skier. These days, along with completing her third year of the Environmental Science program at the University of Calgary, Rubens is coaching 14 and 15 year olds alongside her former ski coach Read.
“It is great coaching with her and it makes my job so much easier,” says Read. “She is very knowledgeable from all her years as a racer and really understands the sport and can relate well to the athletes.” He adds that Rubens is very level headed and has a calming influence over the young racers.
At the same time, Rubens was looking for another way to give back to the sport. She ran the idea of running summer ski camps for young girls past former teammate and Olympian Anna Goodman in 2012. Within two weeks they turned their idea into the Ski Racing Sisterhood, a camp for girls by girls.
“We take 16 girlsfrom the ages of 12-15,” says Ruben. The camps have attracted girls from all over Canada and the States on a first come first serve basis to avoid any discrimination. “It’s been a really amazing experience and we’ve gotten lots of good feedback.”
This summer, 2014, will be the third year with the girls doing two back-to-back camps in Whistler, B.C.
Rubens is very pleased with the success of the Ski Racing Sisterhood saying, “I wish I had something like that when I was young.”