Alex Bilodeau takes a deep breath and looks down from the start line of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games’ freestyle ski run. British Columbia’s Cypress Mountain is steep. It is covered with lumps of snow called moguls. In just a few seconds Alex will race down this course. He is hoping to win a gold medal.
“I could feel the pressure. No Canadian athlete had ever won a gold medal at an Olympic Games in Canada before. But the biggest pressure was from myself. I wanted to win and I knew I could.” The huge crowd begins to chant “Canada! Canada!” The sound, like thunder, rolls up the hillside. Alex knows one of the loudest voices in that crowd is his older brother, Frederic. Alex calls him his hero.
“He is always at my races. He always cheers me on. Frederic has Cerebral Palsy [a condition that affects his body]. He has lived all his life with that. I think about that a lot. His example keeps me grounded.” The starter yells, “Go!” Alex flies down the mountain. His knees flash as he goes over each mound of snow. He digs his poles into the snow to help him keep his balance. “Life is like a moguls run. It goes really fast. You have to deal with all sorts of bumps and obstacles. You have to work hard and also stay calm to beat them.” Like any elite athlete, Alex has had injuries. He has had disappointing results and bad scores from judges. His brother has always pushed him to work harder, to keep trying. He tells Alex to never give up.
“Doctors told Frederic that he wouldn’t be able to walk after he turned ten. He’s now in his late twenties and still walks. He never gives up, even when obstacles get in his way so why would I? He never complains so why should I? He’s taught me what it means to be tough. I wouldn’t have this gold medal without him. ” Alex hits the jumps. His body is travelling at incredible speed. If he makes even a small mistake here he could lose points. He’s going too fast to think about that. “The Olympics are a mental game. My brother is as quick mentally as anyone else. Living with him has made me mentally quick as well. He always gives me advice and feedback.”
Alex lands without missing a beat. He is almost at the finish line. Alex is a natural. But moguls wasn’t his first choice of sport. He wanted to focus on downhill skiing, but when they were kids Frederic wanted to try freestyle instead. Alex started freestyle skiing for Frederic.
“It’s funny. I’m an athlete and people see me as a kind of “normal” person. Frederic can’t move as well but he is just as much of a competitor in life. I always try harder and never quit thanks to his example.” Alexandre crosses the finish line with a great time. The judges give him great scores. But there is one more racer, a very good one. Alex and Frederic watch his race. “I watched him and knew he had made some mistakes. I looked over at the crowd and Frederic was giving me the thumbs up. He knew.”
The final scoreboard flashes “#1. Alexandre Bilodeau”.
Alex lets all his emotions pour out. He rushes over to the crowd and gives Frederic a huge bear hug. Frederic hugs him back just as hard. Alex has made history. Frederic has one final message for his little brother, the Olympic champion. “He only said three words to me: ‘I love you.’ That meant everything. When I got my gold medal I knew I had to dedicate that victory to one person, my hero, my brother Frederic.”
CONNECTING: Building a foundation for new learning
Ski with Alex
Watch “Bilodeau speeds to glory” at www.olympischool.ca/podcast. In this activity, students will achieve the feelings of movement experienced by Alex when he is plows through the the moguls in a freestyle skiing event. Ask students to stand on one side of an imaginary line and jump from side to side over the line for 15 seconds. Encourage students to imagine themselves skiing the gold medal freestyle ski run as if they were Alex. Ask the students to reflect upon what emotions Alex must have gone through before, during and after his gold medal run.
Read the story together as a class.
PROCESSING: Using strategies to acquire and use knowledge
T Chart – Character Traits
Create a “T” chart with the headings Alex and Frederic.
Identify, record and discuss character traits that describe both Alex and Frederic. Brainstorm any other words for the list describing Alex and Frederic that are not mentioned but could be used in the story.
What words appeared on both Alex’ and both Frederic lists? What does this tell us? What can we learn from this? What can you learn from the following quote: “The Olympics are a mental game. My brother is as quick mentally as anyone else and living with him has made me mentally quick as well.”
TRANSFORMING: Showing understanding in a new way
Inclusivity and You
Instruct students to talk about times they have been included in activities with other students at recess. Ask them how being included made them feel. Discuss times when students have been excluded from an activity or been left out. Ask them how being excluded or how excluding people makes them feel. In a journal have students record three things they can do to be more inclusive at school, at home and/or in their community.
EXTENDING: Making further connections to Olympians
Explore numbers and the Olympic Games by developing numeracy problems from Olympian
results and sport specific numbers.
Sample Numeracy Exercise
In freestyle moguls, Alex’s score is 26. The last place competitor had a score of 19. Use rounding to estimate the difference between the two scores. Then, calculate the actual difference between the scores.