Alex Beaulieu-Marchand's injuries were a blessing in disguise

Setbacks put Canadian freestyle skier on path to Olympic medal

Alex Beaulieu-Marchand's injuries were a blessing in disguise
Alex Beaulieu-Marchand celebrates his Olympic bronze medal win in the men's ski slopestyle. © Kevin Light/CBC Sports

By Nick Murray, CBC Sports

Determination has defined Alex Beaulieu-Marchand from a young age.

When he was 12 years old in Quebec City, he wanted to go to a ski camp in Whistler, B.C. But his parents told him to raise the money himself. So he learned how to knit from a friend of his sister's, made hats and sold them to friends at school to fund his trip.

That same kind of determination has helped the now 23-year-old turn a laundry list of injuries over the past four years — among them a torn ACL, a broken collarbone and a concussion — into a complete lifestyle change, culminating in an Olympic bronze medal in ski slopestyle this week.

"To come back from all that, after all that bad luck... it's a miracle for me that this happened," Beaulieu-Marchand told CBC Sports in French, adding that those injuries have limited him to perhaps two weeks of skiing in the last six months.

"I think it's because I was at such a low point that I really learned how to be resilient and to be mentally tough. It allowed me to stay strong and really believe in myself."

'Lowest of lows'

Beaulieu-Marchand was 19 years old when he made his Olympic debut four years ago in Sochi. Ski slopestyle was a new Olympic sport and he was Canada's only athlete in the event. He finished 12th.

A year later, he qualified for his first-ever X Games final on the strength of his first run. But he crashed on his second qualifying run, tearing a knee ligament. Still, he made his third run before withdrawing from the final.

Surgery came next, followed by nine months of recovery. After working hard to come back the following January, he suffered the broken collarbone. Another season lost.

But it turned out the road to recovery may have done more to help Beaulieu-Marchand develop as an athlete than any competition ever could.

"It taught me so much," he says. "It taught me to take care of my body. It taught me to eat well and everything about how my body worked. I think it's been everything I've learned from getting hurt and being at my lowest of lows, that's where you learn the most," 

Beaulieu-Marchand overhauled his life. He went from a kid who rarely set foot in the gym to a high-performance athlete working out six times a week. He worked with a conditioning coach and a sport psychologist, who taught him to draw positives out of adversity.

"I think when you lose what you love the most in your life, which for me is skiing, the first thing I thought in my mind was 'OK, I want to do everything I can possibly do, every day of my life, to return to skiing.' I wanted to come back strong," Beaulieu-Marchand says.

"Today, when I look at where I am as an athlete, I realize all those things that can seem negative can actually be really positive things in my life. That allowed me to grow into the athlete I am today and win this medal.

"It's learning that wisdom in the worst moments that was key for my success today."

'Lucky to get here'

Beaulieu-Marchand had a strong 2016-17 season, winning X-Games bronze and reaching the podium at Dew Tour and World Cup events, qualifying him for the Pyeongchang Games "by the skin of my teeth," as he puts it.

But recurring knee problems forced him to step away. Then came the concussion. Still, there were lessons to be drawn from those setbacks too.

"[In the past] I just went to ski without thinking about anything else," he says. "But now it's little things that I do after my ski so I can recover and ski better the next day."

Beaulieu-Marchand says one of the most rewarding aspects of his comeback is the impact his lifestyle change has had on his family.

"I convinced my dad to work out. He's in his 60s and works out all the time now. Before, he thought just skiing and playing hockey at night was enough," he said.

"Just to have influenced him into that, and changing his life in that regard, he'll probably live longer and be in shape longer. So it's positive things that I learned from being at my lowest point that allowed me to grow, and to go from that 19-year-old into the athlete I am today."