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Mix of veterans, new blood as Canada names para-alpine team for Sochi

The last time Kimberly Joines was in Sochi, Russia, she ended up in hospital for a week.

She's hoping her next trip there has a happier ending.

Joines was named Tuesday to Canada's 13-member para-alpine team for the 2014 Paralympic Games. The competition will take place on the same mountain where she was involved in a serious crash last year before a World Cup event.

A bronze medallist at the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Joines got a different perspective on life with a disability while she was in her Russian hospital bed with injuries to both her shoulders.

"In talking to my roommate in the hospital, she made mention of how they don't really see disabled people around working real jobs and being productive members of society," Joines said from Calgary after Tuesday's announcement. "The Games is giving people an opportunity to change that."

And while that change is happening, she added the Sochi Paralympics can push it further.

"I guess it just opens the door for visibility for us to set an example as to what is possible when you are disabled," said Joines, who suffered an injury to her spinal cord while snowboarding back in 2000. "We have seen the Russian team grow from two athletes a decade ago to 20 athletes now. They're leading the pack."

Canadian chef de mission Ozzie Sawicki said that disabled athletes can make a huge difference in changing people's perception of physical limitations.

"A lot of what we're going to be doing is educating (in Russia)," he said. "London and Vancouver (the sites of the last two Paralympics) were much more inclusive."

Brianne Law, athletic director of Alpine Canada's para-alpine program, said athletes probably won't realize what impact they've made until the Paralympics — which run from March 7 to 16 — have wrapped up.

"My experience from the Games in Vancouver is when you're in it and you're there, you're so focused. It's hard to look at what's happening outside," said Law. "I personally didn't really appreciate the impact we had and how much our country had truly rallied around us until the Games were over."

Before she was injured in Sochi last year, Joines said her first run with some other para-alpine skiers caused a bit of a commotion on the mountain.

"Groups of people were chasing us down the hill with video cameras," said Joines, who missed the 2010 Paralympics because of injury. "They couldn't believe what we were doing."

Joines is part of a Canadian team comprised of both experience and youth, including veterans Josh Dueck of Kimberley, B.C., Toronto's Chris Williamson, Matt Hallat of Coquitlam, B.C., and Kirk Schornstein of Spruce Grove, Alta.

Williamson — who is guided by Robin Femy of Mont-Tremblant, Que. — is a three-time Paralympic medallist who won gold in 2002, while Dueck won a silver at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Also on the team is Braydon Luscombe of Duncan, B.C., who was a forerunner in Vancouver.

Canadian Paralympic rookies in Sochi are Caleb Brousseau of Terrace, B.C., and Mac Marcoux of Sault Ste-Marie, Ont., — who is guided by his older brother Billy Joe Marcoux — along with the Calgary trio of Alexandra Starker, Kurt Oatway and Alana Ramsay.

One skier the team won't have in Russia is Lauren Woolstencroft, who retired after winning five gold medals at the Vancouver Paralympics — half of the entire Canadian team's haul.

In total, the para-alpine team contributed 13 of Canada's 19 medals back in 2010. The country is hoping to match its third-place finish in the total medal count from four years ago, but it's clear to do that the alpine team will need a huge effort.

They appear to have the talent to do it. Canadian team members have won nearly 200 World Cup medals and made the podium 14 times at the 2013 world championships.

"There's always turnover after a Games," said Joines. "We have lots of youth and some young blood too."

The para-alpine racing in Sochi gets going March 8 with men's and women's downhill. The team will also compete in super-G, super combined, slalom and giant slalom.

Canada's Paralympic team will also compete in sledge hockey, wheelchair curling, para-Nordic skiing, biathlon and para-snowboard.

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