If you were to ask most young athletes what their ultimate goal in athletics is, it would be to represent Team Canada at the highest level they can.
For Andrew Hildebrand, that dream is coming true this year, as he is set to compete on Team Canada in Almaty, Kazakhstan for snowboarding for the 2017 Winter Universiade.
“I've competed for my country a couple times throughout my career,” said Hildebrand. “It's awesome, and it's just always great to represent Canada, it'll be awesome to see all the other athletes there too and I'm excited to compete.”
Hildebrand comes from a family of snowboarders and has spent most of his weekends up north in Collingwood perfecting the sport. He opted to take the road less traveled, pursuing a post-secondary education while continuing to train every weekend.
“There aren't a lot of athletes that are still in school in this sport so I’m really happy to be a apart of it,” said Hildebrand. “It’s a really great event that celebrates student athletes and the sport that I do.”
Hildebrand’s journey to the Universiade has been a long one, as he started snowboarding 14 years ago. What started out as a fun family pastime quickly evolved into competitive teams and provincial competitions. When he was 15 he began competing at the NorAm level, a North American organization which regulates and oversees competitions in Canada and the U.S.
“It’s been a lot of driving up north in blizzards and bad weather,” said Hildebrand. “A lot of driving to random ski places in Canada and New York.”
Once he began competing at the NorAm level, he began to collect points. The number of athletes that compete in an event influences how many points are given out.
How a competitor finishes in the rankings dictates how many of those points they get. The athletes with the most points are the ones who get named to the Universiade team, as well as to the Olympic and World Cup teams.
“For a team sport they choose the best for their team, best players for like the university,” said Hildebrand. “For snowboarding they do it by the amount of points you have, so it's by the results based on the competitive events that you attend.”
London’s lack of ski and snowboard options has made it difficult for Hildebrand to train, something that is not helped by Western’s lack of a ski and snowboard team or club. Although the school used to have a team, it was deratified after hazing allegations surfaced. Hildebrand is hoping to revamp the bad reputation of ski and snowboard teams and prove that there’s more to the sport than Apres Ski.
“I'm excited to do it because maybe more people will be snowboarding, and maybe more people will see it as a competitive sport and more people will be aware of it,” Hildebrand said. “I want to show that the sport is not just related to drinking, it can be competitive too.”
Western’s lack of resources and London’s lack of ski facilities hasn’t slowed down Hildebrand. He makes the three-hour trip to Collingwood every weekend, so he can train Friday, Saturday and Sunday, before he makes the three-hour trip back to Western. Although snowboarding takes up a lot of time, the school has been quite accommodating for Hildebrand.
“Western has been really great at accommodating exams, they've always moved exams for me when I have a letter from my coach,” he said. “They’ve never hesitated to make sure it wasn't difficult to me.”
Hildebrand was confident he would make the team this year, after he wasn’t invited to the team two years ago when the Universiade was held in Spain. Despite his lack of surprise, he is equally as excited to be travelling to Kazakhstan. The opportunity is an accumulation of years of hard work, and it’s time for Hildebrand to reap the rewards.
“I really wanted to go to it and I've always wanted to do it,” said Hildebrand. “I’m really happy that I’m finally going to be able to go.”
This year, it’s difficult to predict how Hildebrand and the rest of Team Canada will rank. In the past, the Universiade has been chock-full of World Cup and Olympic athletes, but this time it’s anybody's race, as some of the athletes will be instead competing at the World Cup, happening at the same time.
“At the last Universiade there was a lot of World Cup athletes there which is like the highest level,” said Hildebrand. “But this time I don't know, I don't even know who's going to be there.”
The Universiade kicks off on Jan. 28, where the snowboarding events will begin on Jan. 29, and be completed on Feb. 7.