Emily Brydon grew up skiing because, in Fernie, that’s what kids did with a world-class ski destination at their doorstep. Never did she imagine that her love for the sport would eventually land her on international podiums and now in the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
The Fernie local is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside several other current or retired athletes, including Roy Gerela, Kelly McCallum and Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Brydon says that being placed among the best of the best is very surreal.
“I’m totally humbled and honoured that the province wants to honour me for my skiing, and contribution to sport,” she said.
“Not everyone gets such a great opportunity just to do it and then to be honoured for it is a whole other level, which I’m very very grateful for.”
Growing up, Brydon says skiing was a blessing in disguise.
“I was always in sports or in skiing particularly because I loved it and it was something I did with my friends, and family growing up. It was a part of my childhood,” said Brydon.
“I didn’t know what ski racing was, or that it could become a career. It was way too beyond my wildest dreams to ever think that could become a reality.”
As a young skier, Brydon remembers fighting hard for what she wanted and always striving to be the best. She says she learned that fight and passion early on.
As Brydon was progressing in the sport and started qualifying for ski race competitions around the world, she remembers feeling pressure from society to go get an education or ‘get a real job’.
“I went back and forth a ton around, should I keep following my dream and my passion, or should I do what society tells me to do and conform?” said Brydon, adding that at the time, she still didn’t know what a career as a professional athlete was or could be.
In 1999, Brydon was 19-years-old and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics were approaching. Brydon was doing well enough at the time to earn herself a ski scholarship, which meant she couldn’t compete in the Olympics.
“I had to make a decision whether I was going to really go for it,” she said.
Brydon turned down the scholarship. This ended up being a pivotal moment in her career.
Recovering from injury to compete in Salt Lake City remains one of her biggest physical achievements.
This was a challenging time for Brydon as, just prior to this, her father passed away. Her backbone at the time was a family in Fernie who supported her and told her to go achieve her dreams.
“I didn’t want to let anyone down, including myself, my dad and the family that believed in me,” she said.
“So that was also a pretty defining moment for me. I don’t think in the moment I really appreciated that as much as it truly impacted my trajectory.”
For the outside world looking in, Brydon says people often assume that her biggest moments throughout her skiing career must have been the podium moments or the big wins. As special as these are, Brydon says this is not always the case.
“Those all come after significant failures or overcoming challenges or periods of time,” she said.
“It’s often those little wins in between that become very relevant.”
Fifty per cent of her victories came from winning – the other 50 per cent, she says, came from overcoming struggles.
Brydon reached the podium on the World Cup circuit nine times – five in downhill, three in super G and one in combined. She took gold at the St. Moritz World Cup in 2008 – a victory she worked for 10 years to achieve. In 2006 she competed in the Winter Olympics, and again in 2010.
After the dust settled from her second Olympics, Brydon still remembered the family that helped support her when her father passed away, almost 10 years earlier.
This inspired her to launch the Emily Brydon Youth Foundation, an organization geared towards enabling the dreams and passions of youth in the Elk Valley through program support in sports, arts and education.
“I realized that I had a bigger purpose, that it was my time now to use skiing as a vehicle to effect change,” said Brydon.
“I had a responsibility as a sports person who was in the media and had a voice, to actually make a difference. I wanted to give back to the community.”
The next four years of Brydon’s life were her happiest yet, as she was focusing on something bigger than herself. She says she believes this was a big thing that was missing in her life before.
To date, the Emily Brydon Youth Foundation has raised more than $430,000 for over 760 youth in the Elk Valley.
“I hope it inspires others to use sports for good,” said Brydon. “If a little girl from Fernie can do it, basically anyone can.”