Slade Doyle chose a grand stage to win his first cross-country ski race, doing so in the first event he has ever entered.
The Manitoba athlete crossed the line well ahead of the pack in the 2.5-kilometre men's standing free para competition Monday morning at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax.
Doyle covered the distance in a time of 6:20.40. Louis Fortin of New Brunswick finished in second place at 7:46.40. Gabriel Denis of Ontario placed third with a time of 7:54.40.
Doyle is pretty used to being a winner, having been a member of Team Canada's six-time International Standing Amputee Ice Hockey Federation world championship team.
Still, he said the victory was humbling. "To be honest, it is really hard to believe this is really happening," said Doyle. "I am super excited. Words can't even describe what I am feeling right now."
Doyle, 35, lost both his hands below the elbow in an electrical accident in 1997.
"I was just a young guy, and it took me about a year before I even learned to tie my shoelaces," he told the Free Press last April.
For hockey, which he put on hold this year in order to ski in his backyard, Doyle used special prostheses, which enabled him to hold a hockey stick and shoot and stickhandle with it.
For skiing, he depends entirely on his legs.
"I don't use poles," said the electrical engineering technician for Manitoba Hydro in Brandon. "I am a bilateral amputee, so I don't have arms. I just use my legs. I don't wear the prosthetics when I race. To wear them every day puts you under a lot of strain, but to not wear them when I am in skiing makes it feel very natural."
Doyle said making Team Manitoba was a numbers game. "This is my first winter skiing, and there was no one to challenge me for the spot."
Making the switch from hockey wasn't easy.
"The balance was somewhat difficult," said Doyle, "but without hands, balance was something I had to fight with just in everyday living.
"But the way I ski, I put 100 per cent of the power through my legs, and just power my way through the course."
Doyle's wife Hannah isn't surprised at her husband's success on skis.
"We (Hannah and their daughters Alexandra, 8, Samantha, 6, and Annabelle, 3) are so proud of him. He never ceases to amaze us. Once he sets his mind to something, we support him in every way we can," Hannah said Monday..
"The girls love it. They were so excited when he was playing hockey, and when they found out he was going to Halifax to ski they were thrilled."
Hannah said they wished they could have been in Halifax for the occasion, but "the girls are competing in their own dancing event this week, jazz, tap and ballet."
Hannah says the girls can stay up late to meet him at the airport in Winnipeg Sunday night, and after that they'll make the drive back to Brandon where the next day they'll have a celebration with friends and family.
Her biggest problem is how to decide which of their three competitive little girls will be the first to wear their dad's gold medal.
In the women's para sit-ski competition at the Games, Jamie Triskle of Kenora finished sixth.
In another cross-country skiing competition at the Games, Kieran Baird of Rossburn finished 25th Monday in the men's 10-kilometre free competition.
Other Manitobans entered in the race were Joel Peltz (30th), Alex Druwe (32nd), Jordie Baird (35th), and Sean Carter (39th).
Amie Mathews was the top Manitoba woman over the 7.5-kilometre course, finishing 27th. Other Manitoba women were Samantha Burkart (30th), Maya Boivin (31st), Alex Loeppky (35th) and Jennie Hissa (39th).