If you ask 25-year-old James Brunner what his favourite thing about snowboarding is, he will not hesitate.
It’s the speed.
Brunner, born and raised in Guelph, will be competing at the 2019 Winter Deaflympics in Italy this December.
There are 34 deaf and hard of hearing athletes preparing to represent Canada and this year, the Canadian team will compete in four of the six sports presented at the games including curling, ice hockey, alpine skiing and snowboarding.
“I was really surprised and proud,” says Brunner of making the team. “I never knew that I was capable of all of this until I made it on the team.”
As the only snowboarder on Team Canada, it is the first time Brunner will compete internationally as he prepares to face two snowboarding events, the slalom and snowboard cross.
“It’s hard to imagine how huge this is, to represent Canada,” Brunner said.
“I think about the challenge I’m about to face and I’m excited to compete with a deaf community that I’ve never seen before from different countries.”
And Brunner looks forward to the mountains.
“They are big compared to here. The view will be unforgettable,” he says.
The 2019 Winter Deaflympics will gather 500 to 600 athletes from 25 countries in the Italian regions of Valtellina and Valchiavenna from Dec. 12 to Dec. 21.
Thanks to the Canadian Deaf Sports Association, (CDSA) fundraising helps cover costs for athletes participating and continuously supports Team Canada in reaching the podium.
The CDSA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of high-performance deaf and hard of hearing athletes. Through direct financial support, the CDSA helps athletes participate in international sport events sanctioned by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf and the Pan American Sports Committee for the Deaf.
Nothing seems to hold a cheerful Brunner back as he smiles, quoting H.P. Lovecraft.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”.
“When I try something that I absolutely don’t know anything about, I become far more passionate about it. It is a great feeling when I actually overcome it. I don’t let my thoughts consume me. I just leave them there and I do it. I believe in myself and my skills that I’ve developed over the years. They were not for nothing,” he says.
Brunner began snowboarding when he was just 10-years old.
“Before that, I played Snowboard 1080 on my Nintendo 64. I told my mom that I really wanted to try it out. I was just a kid. One day, I finally got a cheap snowboard for $20 at Zellers. I was really excited to ride it. My first hill was at a nearby school.,” Brunner said.
And that was it. He was hooked.
From that day on, he continued to snowboard at Glen Eden Skiing and Snowboarding at Kelso Conservation Area in Milton.
“My mom was always supportive about whatever I wanted to pursue or any sports I really got excited about trying out. She would never say no and always made sure that I received full support to achieve what I wanted to achieve,” Brunner says.
“As for now, I am sure that she is very proud of me and happy that she introduced me to snowboarding because she made it happen. She was there when I decided to try it and when I wasn’t sure. And I know that she was there when I wasn’t sure if I should try out for the Canadian team.”
Brunner’s mother passed away in 2005 of colon cancer.
“My dad has been very supportive. He’s been my rock for pretty much everything. He’s good when it comes to unconditional love,” Brunner said.
Brunner was born hard of hearing. He grew up with one brother and two sisters.
“There are two of us hard of hearing and two hearing,” Brunner said. “And they’ve all been so supportive as well.”
Without the snow, Brunner exercises regularly to keep fit.
“I am going to train in Alberta in a few weeks and I will get some more training before going to Italy. There will be more training there before the competition,” he said.
When off the hills, Brunner works full-time as an elevator assembler and tester for electrical systems at Cambridge Elevating. In his free time, he plays video games and often immerses himself with electronic projects with microcontrollers like Arduino. He also enjoys being with friends.
“All of my friends were glad that I tried out for the team because they knew I was good enough. I’m glad I took their advice, that I gave the opportunity a shot,” Brunner says.
“There is a coach from Alberta that I have worked with which is part of the reason I’m going there in a few weeks. His name is Mark Ballard. He’s a great guy and he definitely knows his stuff. I have also worked with some people at Snowboard Ontario for my slalom racing skill. They are such a wonderful and welcoming community.”
Canada has participated at the Winter Deaflympics since 1959.
Sanctioned by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) and recognized by the International Olympic Committee, (IOC) the Winter Deaflympics have been taking place since 1949.
The Deaflympics create the opportunity for deaf and hard of hearing athletes to compete on the international level in six high performance sports including: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, chess, curling, ice hockey and snowboarding.
“As for my hope, it is to set an example as to how much I’ve achieved so that I can encourage the deaf community to strive and achieve their goals,” Brunner said.
One day, he hopes that a snowboard racing team for the deaf and hard of hearing will be established so he can have an opportunity to teach and compete with them.
“That’s a big dream for sure,” he says.
About to represent his country and with all that speed, nothing else beats it for Brunner.
“As a deaf person, there is a barrier that I have to acknowledge every time that I am about to try something new or something related to my career,” he says.
For anyone deaf or hard of hearing, Brunner says that it is important to accept that it will always be there.
“No matter what obstacles or barriers there are, there is always a way around it. You just have to find the right people and there are so many different ways to achieve, so get around it and don’t give up,” he said.
“If you fail, good. Learn from it and try again, but differently. And most importantly, have fun.”
To help support Team Canada at the 2019 Deaflympics, visit, www.cdsa-deaflympics.ca.