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Fort McMurray Today / McMurray-born skiier first to represent Eritrea at Winter Olympics

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Friday, 05 January 2018


McMurray-born skiier first to represent Eritrea at Winter Olympics

Curtis J. Phillips
Special to the Today  

Shannon-Ogbani Abeda will be representing the East African country of Eritrea in the Feb. 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongchang, South Korea.Supplied Image/ Shannon-Ogbani Abeda
Shannon-Ogbani Abeda will be representing the East African country of Eritrea in the Feb. 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongchang, South Korea. Supplied Image/ Shannon-Ogbani Abeda

The average January temperature for Eritrea hovers around 28 C; certainly not the type of weather one might think would produce a Winter Olympian.

But Fort McMurray-born Shannon-Ogbani Abeda is the exception, and will be the East African nation's first-ever athlete to represent Eritrea at the Winter Olympics when they start next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

He will compete in Alpine Skiing slalom and giant slalom.

Abeda, who is a Canadian citizen, is allowed to represent Eritrea due to a rule allowing National Olympic Committees of each country to enter one male and female athlete who meet the grade.

Both of his parents left Eritrea as refugees in the 1980s, escaping a brutal war that ended in 1991 after 30 years of fighting.

His mother, Ariam, arrived in Rochester, N.Y. at 16, while his father, Walday, arrived on a student visa to Winnipeg.

They met and married a year later, eventually moving to Fort McMurray in the 1990s and calling it home for 14 years.

Abeda started skiing at Vista Ridge Ski Hill when he was three years old, following in the path of his older siblings- sister Feden and brother Metawee.

“I remember going up on the bunny hill at Vista Ridge,” said Abeda, 21, in a telephone interview from Calgary.

“My dad would take us to Tim Hortons before we went out.”

As a member of the Fort McMurray Ski Team, Abeda had dreams of the Olympics from a young age.

“They used to have a Junior Olympics competition and we would leave to go down to Jasper for it and after that he said that he wanted to be in the Olympics one day,” said Ariam.

“When he was young he would draw pictures of himself standing on the podium at the Olympics,” she added.

“I have a laminated picture where I said that I would like to go to the Olympics some day,” Abeda said. “And now that I am going, it is hard to grasp.”

The family relocated to Calgary when Abeda was seven, but they credit Fort McMurray with playing an integral role in instilling the passion for sport and life in their children.

“Our kids were active... into swimming, Tae-kwon-do, soccer... all sort of things,” said Walday, who works as an engineer.

“Being in Fort McMurray was the greatest time of my whole life,” added Ariam. “We made unbelievable friendships that we still keep in touch with. And our kids were active in sports and other things. It was just wonderful.”

Abeda echoes his parents sentiments: “I attribute my roots to Fort McMurray as that is where I realized that I wanted to go to the Olympics,” he said.

“Actually I wanted to be a hockey player at first but if it wasn’t for my sister, I would have not been introduced to skiing.”

Abeda has competed in the international Alpine Skiing scene since 2011.

He made news on the world stage in 2012 as a 16-year-old representing Eritrea at the 2012 Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

His best finishes in the FIS (International Ski Federation) 2017 competition was 12th in Slalom at Norquay on April 10, 2017 and 19th in Giant Slalom at Sun Peaks, B.C. on Nov. 21, 2017.

Abeda is aware his chance of medaling in his events are slim but says it's the opportunity he will cherish.

“I know the odds,” admits Abeda. “So, I really don’t feel the pressure with that or the pressure of representing (Eritrea). I know that the Eritrean community is proud to have someone represent them and put them on the map.”

“I feel more pressure internally to do the best to my abilities. To do my best regardless of the standing.”

Abeda, who will be carrying the vibrant colours of the Eritrean flag at the opening ceremonies, will be the second athlete from Fort McMurray to compete in the Winter Olympics.

At the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Graeme Killick represented Canada in cross country skiing.

Eritrea made its Olympic debut in 2000, sending three athletes to compete in track and field events in Sydney.

“It is overwhelming,” said Abeda. “I hope to inspire other kids, whether they come from Eritrea, or another small country or small town, that one day they too could be in the Olympics.”

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