Francine Lemire had no idea she was writing her own little love story when she strapped on her first pair of cross-country skis some 35 years ago.
Lemire, a doctor who lives in Corner Brook, but works in Toronto in her job as CEO of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, is one of the inaugural inductees into the Cross-Country Newfoundland and Labrador Hall of Fame. The list of inductees was announced at the annual general meeting of the provincial nordic ski body in St. John’s earlier this month.
She met her husband, fellow doctor Jamie Graham, when the Corner Brook native began teaching her how to ski.
“It was very important for my husband to know that he’d be able to get me to be able to cross-country ski because it’s such an important sport in our family,” Lemire said Wednesday from Toronto.
Lemire, an above-the-knee amputee, became an accomplished athlete on the international paranordic ski stage highlighted by two gold medals at the 1988 Paralympic World Championships in Austria. She won gold in both 5-km and 10-km races in Austria to put the sport in the spotlight and she was rewarded for her effort by being named the 1988 Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Senior Athlete of the Year.
When she heard news of her selection from fellow Hall of Fame inductee Judy May, she found contentment as magical moments in her long career flashed before her eyes.
“I feel privileged and honoured to be recognized this way,” Lemire said.
Looking back on the journey, she was quick to point out there were a number of people and groups who provided her with a circle of support that made a difference in her quest to be the best she could be at her sport.
“Your family and your friends who sort of supported you, directly and indirectly, in your quest to become the very best you can be and I think that’s very important and needs to be acknowledged,” she said.
She also thought it was important to recognize that the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing also provided an element of support to help her improve her skillset and get engaged in the racing side of the sport.
“It’s nice to reflect on making a foot print as an above-the-knee amputee who achieved some element of standing in the Paralympics and kind of see today what the Paralympics have become,” she said. “Because the Paralympics are much better supported and there’s been growth in leaps and bounds and also some better supported athletes, but also some incredible performances that have taken place.”
Lemire’s racing days are behind her, but she’s quick to remind people about a key component of the sport.
“When you don’t race you sort of come to a certain plateau in terms of your technique and what you’re able to do, but you still have a sport you can enjoy for life,” she said.