Canada’s Kelsey Serwa retires from ski cross racing an Olympic champion

Kelsey Serwa is ready for her life’s next chapter after a decorated career in ski cross racing.

The 29-year-old Olympic champion from Kelowna, B.C., announced her retirement Thursday when she finally had time to do so.

Amid writing exams, planning a September wedding and preparing for a six-stage mountain bike race, Serwa took stock of a career that includes Olympic gold and silver medals, a world championship, and two X Games victories.

“I love racing. I love that feeling. But now for sure I’m like ‘OK, my time has come and I’m ready for the next stages of my life,”’ Serwa told The Canadian Press.

Ski cross features skiers racing head-to-head down a course of jumps and turns.

Serwa’s gold medal at last year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was Canada’s third straight in women’s ski cross since the sport made its Winter Games debut in 2010.

Serwa finished second to teammate and champion Marielle Thompson at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Canada went one-two again in Pyeongchang when Brit Phelan finished second behind Serwa.

Serwa was fifth in her Olympic debut in 2010 when Ashleigh McIvor won gold.

“Twenty-ten was a bit of a disappointment for me,” Serwa said. “I think that was a lot of my motivation and driving force to competing to Sochi.

“Finishing second in Sochi, that was kind of my decision-maker to go one more Olympics, one more quad.

“Looking back, it kind of perfectly jumped from one to the other. The Olympic gold medal is just the cherry on top of it all.”

Her success demanded her resilience, however. Multiple surgeries have contributed to an arthritic knee.

After taking the 2014-15 season off to give her body a break, a hard landing damaged Serwa’s knee in January, 2017, and sidelined her for the rest of the season

“It’s never always happy rainbows and butterflies all the time,” Serwa said. “You butt heads with some people. You get along really well with others.

“Each has a role in shaping the athlete you become. The different people on the team during different Olympic cycles, each one played a particular role in challenging me or supporting me or giving me the confidence I needed, in order to let me become my best.

“I think maybe throughout my career, whatever the team environment it was during each Olympic phase and quadrennial, I made it work for me in the best way that I could.”

In addition to her Olympic medals, Serwa says her most memorable accomplishment was winning a world title in 2011 a week after wrecking at the X Games.

“I won that race, but in the process of crashing through the finish line, I suffered two compression fractures in my spine and whiplashed my whole back, sprained my thumb, scraped up my face, twisted my tailbone,” she recalled. “Just a real mess.

“Then a week later competed in the world championships. I missed out on all the training leading up to the race day and ended up winning that race also. That is probably one of my most under-rated, but proud moments, in my sport competing throughout my career. Just to overcome that pain and be persistent.”

Serwa grew up skiing at Kelowna’s Big White Resort, which was co-founded by her grandfather Cliff. There is a ski run named after her there.

Thompson believes having Serwa has a teammate made her a better racer.

“Always having the top people to train with every day makes you better as an athlete,” Thompson said.

“She pretty much ticked every box you can in the sport of ski cross. She’ll definitely be remembered as being friendly and welcoming to others on the tour and a leader in her own respect.

“Always there when you need her and as a teammate that’s always been helpful.”

Serwa has started a scholarship fund that gave a total of $10,000 to three high-school student-athletes this year.

She’ll marry professional skier Stan Rey in September and is working towards a degree in physiotherapy.

“Of course I’d love to work with athletes because they’re a very motivated group of people,” Serwa said. “At the same time, I’m not closing the door on any opportunities.

“Before I say ‘yes’ to working with the national team or sports team, I want to make sure I have a really good skill set so I’m able to help these athletes be their best as well.”

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