The men’s downhill – the Formula One of Alpine ski-racing: with the fastest recorded time during a race clocking in at 96.6 miles an hour, a split-second mistake on the part of the athlete or an unseen bump in the course could spell career-ending injury or even death.
For the storied Canadian men’s downhill team of the 1970s and 1980s, which included Jim Hunter, Dave Irwin, Dave Murray, Ken Read and Steve Podborski – the Crazy Canucks as they became known – the danger and thrill of the sport was a passion pursued around the globe with a goal toward an Olympic podium.
Of those men, it was Podborski who ultimately achieved Olympic glory. During his career, he claimed eight World Cup victories and became the first North American man to win an Olympic downhill medal, taking bronze in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. In 1982, Podborski became the first and still only North American to win the World Cup season title in the downhill. He first made the team at 16 and, in 1984, retired at the age of 26. “The day I quit was one of the toughest days of my life. I had been an athlete for my entire adult life,” explains Podborski. “I had a whole life ahead of me that was full of uncertainty.”
Since hanging up his skis nearly 35 years ago, Podborski’s life has been decidedly more certain with several reinventions along the way. He worked as a television broadcaster during the Winter Games in Nagano in 1998, Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin in 2006. “Being a broadcaster, what the hell is that?” jokes Podborski. “You got a headset, and a guy’s yelling at you, and you’re talking away. It was one of the craziest jobs I’ve done.”
Podborski joined the corporate world with a stint at Telus, the telecommunications company, from 2003 until 2017 where he served as national director, community sports. During that time, he also became
assistant chef de mission for Canada at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games and chef de mission for Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Today finds the Toronto-born Podborski president and CEO of Parachute, a national organization dedicated to injury prevention. While the organization’s primary focus is helping to prevent injuries among children, the group’s platform includes seniors and falls (parachutecanada.org). “What happens, as I’m sure many people know,” says Podborski, “is that you trip on a rug or something that’s been in your life your whole life and then break your hip. Then you never come home again because you’re in the hospital and you might pass away.
“And to me, that’s a great shame because it may be that you have many years ahead of you and enjoying your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. But this one little slip takes it all away. It’s heartbreaking. So we have a program called Finding Balance to teach practitioners, and it comes with online tools and other resources.”