Biggar’s Lisa Dejong takes silver in historic Paralympic snowboard cross

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Socially distanced snowboarding practice looks like a dream come true. Felipe Giacometti via Unsplash

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Biggar’s Lisa Dejong became Canada’s first-ever Paralympic snowboarding medalist, winning a silver medal in the snowboard cross at the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games.

Competing on March 7 in her debut Paralympic Games, Dejong came second in the quarter-final and semifinal behind Cecil Hernandez of France, and was seen proudly waving the Canadian flag at the bottom of the course. “I felt so proud to be there wearing the Canadian maple leaf,” said Dejong. “Especially winning the first-ever Paralympic medal for snowboarding for Canada was so cool to be a part of that experience.” 

The bronze medal was awarded to Brenna Huckaby from the United States after a huge collision with Lisa Bunschoten of the Netherlands. Bunschoten fell off course during the collision and was disqualified as a result. Before the Paralympic Games took place, Dejong had great success debuting at the World Cup, capturing two bronze medals. 

Dejong’s competition experience was hindered because of COVID-19 restrictions. Her first competitive race took place months before the Paralympic Games. “It definitely made it a little more difficult to train and compete leading up to the games with all the protocols we had,” said Dejong. “I had to be really careful trying not to catch COVID before races so that I could qualify for the Paralympics.” 

Less time travelling for competition gave Dejong more time to train. Originally, the Paralympic team travels to different facilities across North America and Europe, but because of restrictions, they stayed in Canada, training at Sunshine Ski Resort near Banff, Alta. For Dejong, the travel time that was eliminated was a “blessing in disguise.”

“For me, it totally worked out to my benefit because I was so new to the sport and I had a whole winter to train at world-class facilities,” said Dejong. “I think it 100 per cent benefited me. Sunshine Ski Resort was a really great place that allowed us to build all the tracks on it that we wanted to train on, and we basically lived there for the winter. We spent two weeks there at a time and would come home for two weeks, and then go back for two weeks for the whole winter […] I think I gained so much skill having that time to just train because a normal year of racing is pretty hectic, as you don’t get a lot of time to build skills. It’s mostly just racing with what you have.”

Para Snowboarding was declared an official sport in 2014. This year, Dejong topped Michelle Sait’s 2018 fourth place for best Canadian record at the Paralympic Games. Dejong also competed in the banked slalom event, placing eighth. 

Dejong’s own snowboarding journey began when she was 11, after switching over from skiing. She was a disability-certified snowboard instructor, and that gave her more experience with snowboarding. When she was three years old, her lower left leg was amputated because of missing growth plates and bones. The sport slowly became a passion for Dejong.

“Snowboarding, to me, is one of the biggest passions I have in life,” said Dejong. “I love just getting out on a snowboard and feeling the freedom and how it gets me out of my head. I can just go ride and it’s almost meditative. When I get on a snowboard, I can just flow down the hill and be in nature, and feel like I’m one with the board and the atmosphere around me.” 

Dejong’s mom, Lorna Goring, said that “a huge part of why Lisa competes is to grow the sport.” Goring watched eagerly on March 7 through a broadcast of her daughter’s event. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dejong’s family was unable to spectate in person. “When I see her, it will become more real,” said Goring. “Once I see her and can give her a hug, it will become more real. She gets home soon and I cannot wait to see her. It is so exciting.”

While Dejong currently resides in Sherwood Park, Alta., she chose to represent Biggar in the Paralympic Games. Mayor of Biggar, Jim Rickwood, says the community is “reeling” over the success of Lisa’s debut performance. “You can never leave Biggar,” said Rickwood. “You are always a part of Biggar. Lisa is one of those success stories that we are ever so proud of. It is so amazing.” Rickwood said that Dejong is the first Paralympian to ever represent Biggar. Her silver medal is just an “extra perk” making the experience more special. 

In addition to making Canadian history, Goring is proud of her daughter for accomplishing so much during COVID-19 restrictions. While she had lots of training, there was no opportunity for competition because of the pandemic. “I am so proud of how poised and hardworking she was,” said Goring. “She had a goal and she went for it. The medal was the bonus.”

Dejong echoes the points made by her mom. She explains she did not have huge hopes for making the podium with a largely competitive Chinese team. “I didn’t have a lot of expectation for a medal,” said Dejong. “I was just so excited to make it to the Paralympics. That in itself was such a huge accomplishment, especially with how new I am to the sport. Anything above and beyond that was just an extra perk.” 

On top of being a Paralympic athlete, Dejong is also a mom of two young girls. She would train for two weeks at a time and then return home to Sherwood Park for two weeks to her family. “It was definitely a balancing act,” said Dejong. “There was a lot of give and take and sacrifice to make that work. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my parents; they would come up to watch the kids while I was gone. I had a very patient husband that was okay with all of that happening. So yeah, definitely without the support of my parents, my family, and my friends, I wouldn’t have been able to make that happen.” 

Dejong is still undetermined if she will return to competition for Milan in 2026. “I’m just taking it year by year. It’s definitely a family decision and I’m seeing where it takes me, but it’s definitely not out of the question.”

An earlier draft of this article was published on the University of Regina’s School of Journalism Ink News. 

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