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Close:Up Chasing the Olympic Dream

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Olympic dreams must start somewhere and for Kelowna native Keara Maguire, her dream began at eight-years-old in front of the TV. As she sat with her mom enjoying the Olympic sport of speed skating, a young Maguire turned and declared what would become her sole focus for the next 15 years.

"She said 'Mom I want to do that,'" recalled Karen Maguire of the moment that would switch the focus in her daughter to a sport they knew little about. "We didn't know anything about speed skating but within a year they started a speed skating club in town and that became her life. She was good at all sports but speed skating just became what she wanted to do. It became her identity."

Maguire chased after the Olympic dream with a passion that took her to Calgary after high school and the Olympic training centre and speed skating oval. She had talent, drive, heart and passion and appeared well on her way to reaching the ultimate goal of reaching the Olympic games. Every Olympics she would watch as skaters who she trained with and competed with took part in the games and she knew deep inside that one day she would get there.

"I definitely thought I would make it, I had that feeling that I knew I was going," said Maguire this week. "I would watch the opening ceremonies and I thought I would be there. I was going to be one of those people. But you have to believe that and see yourself being there if you are going to pursue it."

And Maguire could have been there, probably deserved to be there, had her health not failed her. She had won a Canada Cup race in Quebec in the 5 kilometre event and still holds the track record in Quebec. She was on the brink of going with Team Canada to World Cup events and it looked like all the hard work was going to pay off.

But for years she had been battling illness. In 2009 she was diagnosed with ulcerative collitis, a digestive system disorder that hamper's the body's ability to absord nutrients and saps a person's energy. She would be in and out of hospital over the next few years, getting healthy, starting a comeback only to suffer setbacks.

"I won the Canada Cup and set the track record," said Maguire. "It was one of the greatest five K's I had ever skated. I had finally won a Canada Cup. Then later in the month I was in hospital for almost two weeks. I didn't finish the season and I didn't make the World Cup team."

Once she got healthy she started yet another comeback, was back to training, back chasing her dream. But fate had another curveball to throw her way. Out riding her bike in early 2012 she was hit by an SUV. She broke her jaw and suffered nerve damage in her knee. It was the last straw.

"I just thought 'what am I doing,'" she said. "My school was suffering, the years were going by. I didn't know if I could keep it up. I was going to put one last big effort, one last comeback and the accident happened and that was the end."

•••

Mountain biker Evan Guthrie is no stranger to adversity himself. In 2010, Guthrie was considered one of the best up and coming mountain bikers in all of Canada. He had a decorated career at the Under-17 and junior levels and there were lots of people watching as she moved up into his first year of U-23 competition, including Team Canada coaches who had him pegged as a potential Olympic hopeful.

"I was coming off the best racing of my life, things were looking good and I was poised to have some really good results," said Guthrie. "But during training that year I noticed I was always tired and I was missing workouts."

Guthrie would finally be diagnosed with mononucleosis and it would take a full year to get back to where he was. It was a year of development and training that was gone and set the now 22-year-old back even more than just a year.

"You lose a year of training and racing and experience," said Guthrie. "I'm constantly a year or two behind because you build off every year. I felt like I lost a lot losing that year."

It wasn't the only adversity the Peachland biker has gone through. In 2007 he finished second at the Under-17 national championships only weeks after suffering a separated shoulder. In 2009 at the junior world championships in Australia, the handlebars on his bike broke, putting him in dead last when he returned to the course. He then passed almost three-quarters of the field with some of the fastest lap times in the event.

Last year he was racing a three day stage race in Fernie when he hit a drainage ditch at about 60 km/h, separating his shoulder again and suffering painful hip and foot injuries. A month later he competed in the world championships. He once suffered a cut that required 15 stitches across the ball of his foot, then a couple weeks later raced, using that same foot to pedal.

"It always seems to be something," he said with a grin. "But I don't get discouraged. I use it to re-motivate myself."

Fast forward to this year and Guthrie is in his final year of Under-23 competition and again is ready to tackle the world of cross country mountain biking. He is far from giving up although he has changed the way he will tackle this season, taking a more moderate and measured approach. Instead of taking on every Team Canada project he is invited to, Guthrie will more carefully choose his races this year, aiming at a few specific events including a Canada Cup race at Sun Peaks in June and the Canadian national championships three weeks later.

It's all in the name of chasing the dream of athletic success with the ultimate goal being competing in the Olympics.

"I know it's possible, that's why I still want to make it happen," he said. "I can see it's achievable. I just really want to give something a shot that I really care about. Even if it's over this year at least I am pursuing my dream. It's about achieving greatness. I'm not doing it for anyone else. I'm doing it to prove that anybody can do anything they want to."

Guthrie has started to take that positive attitude into local schools, speaking about his ups and downs and his career so far to elementary school kids. This year he is also organizing kids biking camps, passing along the love of the sport he cherishes to a new generation.

He knows he can't chase the dream forever, but with the support of family, friends and sponsors, the time is now to go for it.

"Right now I'm in position to pursue my dream," he said. "I want to stick with it and give it as much as I can. I can totally understand when people move on from sports. People want a steady income and don't want to worry about where the next month's rent is gong to come from. Maybe in two years I will see that but I can also see myself getting to the top and that's why I'm doing this."

•••

Shortly after she was forced to retire from speed skating, University of Calgary student Keara Maguire once again sat perched in front of the television, set to tune in to the 2012 summer Olympics in London. She was coming to terms with the fact that her long-held dream of reaching the Olympics was not going to come true. And although she felt she was OK with her decision to retire due to health reasons, she wasn't ready for the emotions that would overcome her when she tuned in to the Olympics.

"A couple months after I quit was the summer Olympics and normally I would be glued to the TV, 24-7," she said. "I started watching with the same pattern but I couldn't do it. It was quite upsetting. I was watching and instead of thinking I will be there I was thinking I would never be there; that's not going to be me. I had a really hard time through those Olympics."

Those Olympics likely served as a final goodbye for Maguire. Goodbye to the dream she had chased since she first set eyes on the Olympic sport of speed skating as an eight-year-old. But she was also saying hello to a new chapter in her life. Thanks to her hectic training schedule, she is in her seventh year of university at the U of Calgary and this year she will graduate with a degree in biological sciences and will chase after a career in respiratory therapy.

The real world beckons and Maguire is tackling her future with the same passion she chased her Olympic dream with.

"I'm excited about school and dreams of my future career," she said. "My passion just started shifting and I'm not sure if was my own decision or if it was forced on me. That Olympic dream was seared in my mind for the majority of my life. It was an assumed part of my future. But I am at peace with where I am at. I had to shift what I see in the future. It's different because I was picturing something specific that I wanted to achieve. Now it's a little more abstract and I'm not sure what's going to happen and that part is exciting."

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