CORNER BROOK Lee Churchill learned a lot of life lessons from his career as an elite cross-country skier, so he’ll cherish all the highs and lows of the journey.
Churchill, a native of Hodge’s Cove who has called Corner Brook home since 2003, became a household name in Newfoundland and Labrador when he claimed three gold medals for his province at the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.
A career as a nordic ski star, that also included a handful of medals on the national stage, Churchill will be inducted into the Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Hall of Fame in the athlete category during an induction ceremony April 12 at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s.
Reflecting back on his career, Churchill, who is now 36, said he took a lot from his participation in the sport with him being afforded an opportunity to meet people from all over the country and travel to some neat places.
“You learn the values of hard work and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t,” Churchill said Wednesday.
Churchill was active in a number of team sports in school growing up in his native Hodge’s Cove, but his life would take an interesting twist when he was 15 years old. He had never been on a pair of skis until he decided to take a drive with his parents to Clarenville to participate in a ski clinic being offered in the area.
Brian Durant was the man who planted the seed that would set the stage for the young teenager to blossom into one of the top skiers in the country.
“There was an instructor there and he said to me ‘you know in five years time Newfoundland has the 1999 Games in Corner Brook and you’d be a perfect age,” he said.
“That was the first week I had been on skis, so it kind of seemed like the path to gold was put in my way as soon as I got into the sport.”
He was already making a name for himself on the national nordic ski scene at the National Training Centre in Thunder Bay when the 1999 Games came on the radar. As a 22-year-old, he returned home for the big event to wear Newfoundland and Labrador’s colours, wowing the crowd with a trio of gold medals at Blow Me Down Trails — the same venue that will play host to the 2014 Ski Nationals next month.
Coming home to ski in front of a friendly crowd in 1999, Churchill said he approached the competition like any other elite athlete, defining specific goals and giving it his best shot.
“At least one gold medal or three podiums were on my agenda for sure,” he said of his mindset to achieve success at home.
After the Games, it was back to training hard with his fellow team members in Thunder Bay, where he continued to perform on the North American nordic ski circuit for a couple of years. He reached a point where he had enough of the sport and desired a change, so he pullled up stakes and moved back to the province.
He opted to move to St. John’s, but it wasn’t long before he felt the west coast pulling him away from the capital city.
“I moved back to St. John’s and quickly realized maybe the west coast had a little more to offer,” he said with a light chuckle. “Just the outdoor lifestyle you know. I mean Corner Brook is beautiful ... every time I had the opportunity to come here to race or train with the provincial team I just fell in love with the place.”
More importantly, love was certainly a factor in his desire to make the city his permanent home. When he arrived in the city in 2003, he met Kastine Coleman and today the couple are happily married with three young athletes in the wings — Nevaeh is seven, Kingston is five, and Cassie is three years old.
Churchill is looking forward to attending the induction ceremony with his family. He also takes great pride in knowing his commitment to the sport has been recognized by those who share a passion for sports and active living, no matter what the discipline happens to be.
“Any time you’re recognized for something you’re so passionate about, it’s a tremendous feeling,” he said. “Individual sport, you do it for yourself. You do it because you love it, but then when you get recognized for all the hard work and effort you put into it then it’s overwhelming for sure.”