From sick bay to medal podium

A concussion temporarily zapped the short-term memory of snowboard crosser Meryeta O'Dine.

As if that wasn't enough to upset her plans to compete in the 2015 Canada Winter Games, while she was on the sidelines unable to race, she developed a kidney infection and ended up losing 20 pounds.

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In a gravity-dependent sport such as snowboard cross, where the more weight you carry the faster you go down the slope, losing body mass is never a good thing. But despite those health setbacks, O'Dine made a triumphant return to the medal podium Wednesday in Mont-Tremblant, Que.,

In only her second race day since she hurt her head in a Europa Cup training run in early December in Austria, the 17-year-old from Prince George battled to a third-place finish in Wednesday's NorAm Cup final.

Maria Ramberger of Australia won in 1:00.38, Rosini Mancari of Utah was second in 1:00.43, followed by O'Dine, the top Canadian in 1:01.43. Combined with her sixth-place finish in Tuesday's race at Mont-Tremblant, O'Dine placed fifth overall.

"It was good, it was actually a lot of fun today," said O'Dine. "[On Tuesday] I waxed with the wrong wax and had a bit of a crash and that kind of sucked, but today I had the right wax and got third. I could have made a pass but played it safe and got a podium still, so I'm happy with it."

Six weeks ago, O'Dine landed on her back and hit her head when she fell trying to land a training jump in Pitztal, Austria. She missed four races on the European Cup series while she was hurt, which gave her an extended Christmas break at home but cost her a shot at making the cut for her first World Cup events. She was sick for three weeks with her kidney infection, which dropped the five-foot-five O'Dine down to 136 pounds.

"I haven't been below 150 pounds since I was in Grade 9, and that was quite discouraging before all these races in a row," said O'Dine, who will travel today to Colorado. "I gained a little bit back but it wasn't enough to be where I was last year. On this course where there are a few gliding spots, it made it more of a struggle to keep up with the people I was easily keeping up to last year.

"I feel great [physically] but it's just my confidence is down a bit because I feel a little bit unprepared. I'm happy with how I did today, it's more encouraging than I thought it would be."

O'Dine has been a rising star on the national snowboard cross scene ever since she began racing FIS events two seasons ago. Last January she won bronze in her first NorAm Cup race and went on to post six top-10 NorAm finishes.

She started the 2014-15 season on the South American Cup circuit in Chile, where she won a race in August. That carried significant weight in putting her on top of the points standings to determine the two-female, two-male B.C. boarder cross team for the Canada Winter Games. She'll be among three hometown favourites on the snowboarding team competing in the Games. Evan Bichon (parallel giant slalom) and Dawson Ellery (parallel GS alternate) also live in Prince George.

"Canada Games is pretty much what got me into snowboarding," said O'Dine. "It's one of the higher-stake events for me. I was 13 when it was announced we were getting the Games in Prince George and I was so young then and I was so new into snowboarding I didn't think at all that it was a possibility. I was just announced as the top pick for boarder crossing and it's really cool to see it happening after all this buildup."

There's more at stake for O'Dine at NorAm races this weekend at Cooper Mountain, Colo. If she continues her medal success she could be selected to fill one of the Canadian team spots for a World Cup race in March in Squaw Valley, Calif.

NorAm results from Mont-Tremblant and Cooper Mountain will also determine Canada's team for the junior world snowboarding championship in northern China later in March. Leading up to the Games, O'Dine plans to race NorAm events at Big White near Kelowna, Feb. 11-12, followed by several provincial races.

Canada is among the world's top snowboard cross nations and while she was in Austria, O'Dine had a chance to train with two-time Olympic medalist Dominque Maltais of Quebec.

"She's just so much fun to race beside, it definitely gives you a cool feeling," said O'Dine. "They'll come to nationals too [in April at Big White] and you get to race with them and train and talk to them. It's always fun."

Snowboard cross is one of the last events of the Games, scheduled for Feb. 28 at Tabor Mountain Resort, O'Dine's home base, where she learned to ski and snowboard. 

O'Dine was disappointed to learn Friday that her snowboarding races aren't on the list of Canada Games sports to be broadcast on TSN or RDS, and none of the events at Tabor (snowboarding, freestyle skiing, slopestyle skiing) will be webcast on the Games internet site.

"Boardercross got taken off the broadcasting list and it's one of the craziest events and we were all pretty bummed to hear about it," said O'Dine. "We're prepared to have teams from all over Canada sign a petition to voice their opinion to get it back on the list. They had talked about setting up seven cameras for boardercross and they kind of got our hopes up."

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