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Sun sets on Olympian's ski career

After 90 world cups, 14 world championships and two Winter Olympic Games, Canadian cross-country skier Emily Nishikawa is trading her skis for a teaching degree

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CANMORE – Two-time Olympian Emily Nishikawa is trading her skis for a teaching degree after a decade of being one of the top cross-country skiers in Canada.

The 30-year-old Whitehorse native retired from the sport in late April in which she competed in 90 world cups, 14 world championships and two Winter Olympic Games.

“I was looking to have some good races [in my last season] and to look back and be proud of – and I had some,” Nishikawa said. “I’m really proud of the work I put in and I was feeling ready and I was ready to have a good race in Canmore before it was cancelled.”

This past season was Nishikawa’s last dance – a planned farewell tour that would have seen her final race against the world’s elite in March in her adopted home of Canmore, Alta., where many of the national team trains, but the event was axed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Unbeknownst to Nishikawa, on Feb. 23 when she crossed the finish line in 35th place at the FIS Stage 6 Ski Tour in Trondheim, Norway, that would be the Olympian's last ride at a high-level.

Her brother Graham, who's now a guide for Paralympian great Brian McKeever, looked back at his sister’s rise in the sport from her days as a teenager suddenly showing up at the Yukon ski team and training with him to making her Olympic debut in Sochi.

"I think I quickly realized she was pretty talented and going places, she had really huge engine and pushed herself to the max,” Graham said. “It came quite apparent early on of her potential and promise.”

Graham added his little sister was always prepared and ready to put in the work to achieve her goals.

“I remember a couple of times, there was a world cup somewhere and I see the results online and she’s like [in] 17th and 19th [place], and I was like ‘wow, that’s insane, you’re in the top 20 in the world,’ ” he said. “I would wake up early and watch the results and I was very proud and very happy for her, too.

“She had a really amazing career."

After nearly a decade of facing top competition from Canmore to Oslo, Nishikawa fondly remembers qualifying for the 2014 Olympics; finishing 10th place with the Canadian women’s 4X5-km relay at the FIS world championships in 2017; and completing the Tour De Ski in 2019 as moments that stand out.

“There are some great races that I’ll definitely always remember and I feel like the first time I raced at the Olympics was one of those," she said. "I just had such a great feeling, and I was just happy and very excited to be there and racing.

“l’ll hold onto those memories for a long time.”

Nishikawa's plans after skiing will take her home to the remote and beautiful Yukon, where she’ll attend teacher's college in Whitehorse this fall.

“I definitely love working with kids and it’s something I’ve always been interested in, so I see myself as an elementary school teacher,” said Nishikawa, who’s a mentor and ambassador for Fast and Female and Classroom Champions.

“That’s where I had an opportunity to mentor a bunch of classrooms throughout Canada and also meet some really great teachers through this program as well. I’ve been inspired by them to go and pursue education.”

Where in the world her teaching takes her is uncertain, but there's one place the Olympian will always be brought back to.

“See you on the trails,” Nishikawa said.

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