Two of Canada’s luge Olympic medallists, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith, have converted a challenging time into an opportunity to put the spotlight on four charitable causes that are close to their hearts.
After losing their main personal sponsor as a result of COVID-19 challenges, the most successful duo in the history of the Canadian luge program have selected four charities – STARS Air Ambulance; Cochrane & Area Humane Society; Kvisle Fund for GBM; and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund – to profile on their sled in each of the three World Cup and one World Championship races they will compete in following the holiday break.
“We recognize this has been an unpredictable and challenging year for individual Canadians and businesses alike. Rather than trying to replace our primary sponsor, Justin and I felt the right thing to do this year was to use our platform to bring additional awareness to charities in this country that are doing important work in our communities,” said Walker.
“From the beginning of our sliding careers, we have had the generous support of Canadians and corporate partners through our national program. While we don’t have the financial means to provide a lucrative gift to these organizations, this is one small way we can give back by putting the focus on how these charities are helping to strengthen our broader communities.”
Walker and Snith selected two charities they each have personal connections to. The athletes will profile one charity in each of their four international races this year by placing the chosen charity’s logo on their sled and post-race hats.
Growing up in Cochrane, Alta. with a passion for adrenaline sports, animals and aviation, the 29-year-old Walker chose STARS Air Ambulance and the Cochrane & Area Humane Society.
Walker, who is in the process of getting his commercial helicopter license to set up his career after sport , has a close friend whose life was saved by STARS. Grateful to all of the frontline medical workers who are there for all Canadians every day, Walker’s professional goal once he earns is helicopter license is to use it to also be able to help others.
Walker inherited his need for speed and appetite for aviation from his grandfather who was an air force pilot. Walker had his grandfather’s Royal Canadian Air Force wings in the arm of his speed suit for each of his Olympic runs in Vancouver, Sochi, and when he and Snith raced the anchor leg for Canada en route to claiming the silver medal in the relay event at the PyeongChang Games in 2018.
Walker’s family has also contributed to the Cochrane & Area Humane Society’s mission of providing animals in need with an opportunity for rehabilitation through their adoption of all of the family pets from the organization.
Snith, a 28-year-old Calgarian, selected the Kvisle Fund for GBM; and the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF).
“Gord Downie was a hero and role model who I gained inspiration from,” said Snith. “Like a lot of Canadians, Gord Downie’s cancer diagnosis was my first introduction to Glioblastoma (GBM). And now the Kvisle Fund for GBM really hits close to home for me because I am personally connected to the Kvisle/Aldous family. Seeing their fight has inspired me to leverage my position as an Olympian, and role model myself for young Canadians, to do more to support the Kvisle Fund in their fight to improve care and outcomes for patients and families facing a Glioblastoma Multiforme brain cancer diagnosis.”
Snith and Walker are following in one of Canada’s most-famed musicians’ footsteps.
As Downie was fighting GBM, the late frontman for The Tragically Hip used his considerable influence to shed light on issues important to him throughout his career. Towards the end of his life, Downie notably focused on creating a path toward Reconciliation in an effort to improve the lives of Indigenous People by building awareness, education and connections between all Canadians.
“I am incredibly proud to represent Canada and wear the maple leaf while competing internationally, but I personally don’t believe we learn nearly enough about the dark moments in Canada’s history,” added Snith. “As Olympic luge athletes, we learn from our mistakes every time we take to the track. The DWF is playing a critical role in educating all Canadians about a very significant part of our history that I believe we need to talk about more. We need to learn from our mistakes, celebrate our achievements and work together to create a better Canada.”
Providing it is safe to do so, Walker, Snith and the rest of the Canadian Luge Team will head to Europe on December 26 to rejoin the World Cup circuit.
The chosen charities will be featured in the following races:
January 2-3 – World Cup, Konigssee, GER – STARS Air Ambulance
January 16-17 – World Cup, Oberhof, GER – Kvisle Fund for GBM
January 23-24 – World Cup, Igls, AUT – Cochrane & Area Humane Society
January 29-31 – World Championships, Konigssee, GER – The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund
The Canadian duo will also be doing social media tributes for each charity to coincide with race week.