Oliver Apel

"I’ve learned to recognize that it’s not about what’s missing, but what’s there… I run for that feeling of being in a flow state where everything else seems irrelevant and you are fully in the present.”

norda’s mission is to create a norda fam of exceptional people doing exceptional things. A lot of trail runners run to condition themselves for other sports. Enter Brittany Hudak: Canadian Nordic Skier and 3 X Paralympian medalist. At the norda barn, we are impressed by Brittany’s determination, dedication, and well- rounded approach to sport and life.

norda: Please introduce yourself.

Brittany: I grew up on an acreage just outside of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and would describe myself as being an open-minded, high-energy individual. Growing up with an older brother sparked my competitive side at an early age but with a tendency to get bored easily, I liked doing a variety of activities. I was born missing part of my left arm just below the elbow and this really influenced my ‘tell me I can’t and I will attitude’. I realised early on that people often doubted my capabilities because of my disability and I wanted to decide for myself what things I could or couldn’t do. This kept me motivated to try new things and see what my limits were – nothing ventured, nothing gained right?

I took to cross-country running as a kid because it didn’t require any equipment and it was something I could do right from the door. It was also the one activity where I felt like I could be competitive against others with two arms and do quite well at. I’ve learned to recognise that it’s not about what’s missing, but what’s there. I may not have been graced with having two arms but truly all I need is two feet and a heartbeat.

My intro into skiing didn’t happen until later. Unlike some athletes, I never grew up dreaming of going to the Olympics or pursuing sport as a potential career. After I graduated high school, I was pursuing a degree in Social Work while working part time. It was during a shift at work that I was approached by a Paralympic skier who asked if I had ever tried cross-country skiing. She was hoping to recruit new athletes and thought I could be a good fit. I had never tried skiing before and just had this gut feeling that I should try it. I immediately loved the challenge of skiing and the peacefulness of being out on the trails with few people around. Skiing quickly became something I was curious to pursue, so I began training in between working and studying. Fast forward two years and I competed in my first international ski competition in 2013. It was at this competition that I managed to stamp a ticket to make my first Paralympic debut in 2014. In 2015, I made the national ski team and moved out west to Canmore, Alberta to pursue skiing full-time. I had a tremendous amount of support when I first started skiing and think this was a huge factor in my quick progressions in the sport. Even though I was dedicated to being a full-time athlete, I continued studying for my degree and made it work by switching to online courses so I could travel for training camps and competitions.

Having balance in life is something I find highly beneficial for me. When I finished my degree after the 2018 Winter Games, I knew I was going to want more than just the volunteer work I had been doing. Once Covid happened, I saw it as an opportunity to obtain flexible employment in my field of work. Outside of sport, I have a huge passion for helping others that are less fortunate or have complex situations. I found a casual position working at a residential group home for at-risk youth dealing with trauma, addictions and mental health issues. The past two years, balanced work and training and found it to be a key factor to my success. Working with the youth has challenged me, inspired me and given me a larger purpose outside of sport. I think there is something so powerful about having a positive impact in your community.

norda: Tell us about trail running as a compliment to nordic skiing.

Brittany: Living in Canmore has many perks and one of them being an endless number of trails around the town, and in the alpine. I have found that trail running gives me a mental break from our typical ski technique focused sessions and allows me to explore. Running a new trail and venturing out in a new area leaves me feeling recharged and it keeps the training fun. I’ve found that hiking up the mountains and running in the alpine has contributed to better power transfer in my classic skiing. It helps me to feel a more dynamic kick over the ski and keeps me thinking about moving my body in the most efficient way possible.

I’ve tried many different trail shoes and never found one shoe that checked all of my boxes. I couldn’t find a shoe that provided a great fit for my feet or one that could withstand the rugged terrain in the Rocky Mountains. When I tried norda, I was blown away. The stand out features for me is the unreal grip, durability, lightweight feel and overall comfort. They checked all of the boxes for me and I was surprised that I couldn’t find one thing I didn’t like about them. I really admire that norda uses the highest quality materials to create a trail shoe that is paving way for being the best in both durability and sustainability.

norda: Tell us about Bejiing Olympics.

Brittany: The Olympics were different this go-around. With protocols for Covid still lingering, our interactions and festivities were more limited than usual. That being said, I always feel that the Games brings out a culture of excellence. You know everyone there has the same big goals and its so surreal to have different nations come together in the pursuit of achieving their goals. It’s just an honour to compete for your country in hopes of bringing back a medal.

We experienced a variety of conditions in Beijing. The area where our ski venue was situated is at an altitude of 1700m with a dry desert-like windy climate. Temperatures were around -13 when we first arrived and the snow was very dry and slow. There weren’t many trees around the ski trails and the winds were extreme most days. After the first race, the weather changed significantly and it was reaching highs of plus 10. If you can imagine skiing in mashed potatoes and gliding skis on snow that felt like velcro…that was basically what the ski conditions turned into.

Despite the challenging conditions, there were many things I enjoyed at the Games. My favorite moment was being able to share the podium with one of my teammates and friends. I was really pleased to have some solid races at the Games and bring back two bronze medals. It’s also the memories shared with my teammates, staff and competitors that make the whole experience so special and that will always be a high point to competition for me.

The low point for me was knowing there was a humanitarian crisis going on. I always think of sport as a way of uniting people so when I heard that Russia invaded Ukraine right before the Games, I felt so disappointed and sorry for my Ukraine competitors and friends.

norda: What do you run for?

Brittany: I run for that feeling of being in a flow state where everything else seems irrelevant and you are fully in the present. For me, running has always been the activity that clears my mind and makes me feel alive. I’m driven by curiosity and started running longer distances because I wanted to find out where trails went and where I could get to on foot. Running often times feels like a moving meditation for me, and in those moments I’m completely at ease. That feeling you get when your running downhill - totally care free and light – your legs on egg beater speed and you can’t help but laugh uncontrollably because you’re overwhelmed with a pure sense of joy – I run for that. That feeling where you’ve reached the summit of a peak and overlook your surroundings in complete awe of how stunning our planet is and you can’t help but smile – I run for that. I run for all the experiences that will be created and the memories I’ll have.