Shannon-Ogbani Abeda was introduced to alpine skiing at the age of three, but it wasn’t love at first sight. Like a lot of Canadian kids, he had another winter sport on his mind.
“My brother and I absolutely hated it and wanted to play hockey, but our parents forced us to continue with the program,” he recalled in a Reddit post.
“When I moved to Calgary and was exposed to a little better terrain, I started to enjoy it more.” Abeda was introduced to the sport of skiing in his hometown of Fort McMurray. His parents enrolled him, his brother and sister following a visit by his sister’s Girl Guide troop to the Vista Ridge Ski Hill.
Seventeen years later, Abeda is a Winter Olympian and will compete in slalom and giant slalom in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.
He will be doing so as the lone representative and thus the flag-bearer for Eritrea, a northeastern African country and the homeland of his mother Ariam and father Walday, who emigrated to North America in the 1980s and moved to Fort McMurray in the 1990s and then to Calgary when Shannon was seven.
“Canada has a deep pool of world-class skiers and unfortunately for me I am not at that level and it’s extremely difficult to be nominated to the alpine team,” the 21-year-old wrote on Reddit. “I cannot lie and say that if it wasn’t for Canada, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be able to learn how to ski and pursue this sport. For that, I am beyond thankful and proud to be Canadian.”
Like a lot of Canadian Olympians, Abeda has been juggling his Olympic dreams with schoolwork. He’s pursuing a degree in computer science at the University of Calgary and has taken a lighter course load during the winter semester while he focuses on his final preparations for South Korea.
“I only do my electives during the winter as I relocated elsewhere for the winter and don’t have time to attend my classes,” he wrote.
“I try my best with time that I have and do my assignments a few weeks in advance. I also properly schedule my training sessions and work days. It’s extremely difficult and stressful, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.”
Abeda almost gave up on his dream two years ago when he tore some ligaments in his knee, which required two surgeries and nine months of rehab. He said he began to think he wouldn't be able to walk normally again, let alone ski at his previous level.
“My rehab was incredibly frustrating and the pain was unbearable to a point where I was close to pulling plug. To make things worse, when I did eventually get back on snow in December 2016, I had only five months left to meet my qualification standard with no training and very few races left within the timeframe. I did make it on time.”
Abeda realizes his dream will bring special meaning to pictures he drew as a child of himself standing on the podium at the Olympics. “I have a laminated picture where I said that I would like to go to the Olympics some day,” Abeda told the Fort McMurray Today newspaper.
“And now that I am going, it is hard to grasp.”