Matthew Tunnicliffe, a hopeful for Canada’s 2010 Olympic snowboard team, spent his UBC studies learning how materials are made. This year, he learned what he was made of.
The high-flying student almost saw his Olympic dreams crash to earth when he shredded his ankle – just 15 months before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games – and had to undergo surgery.
Tunnicliffe went from blasting 40-foot jumps, and racking up serious airmiles to race in exotic alpine locations, to being completely grounded. But the graduating engineering student says the upcoming Games have provided ample motivation for a speedy recovery.
“It would mean so much to me to race for Canada in the Olympics,” says Tunnicliffe, who is jockeying – along with his older brother Patrick – for one of Canada’s four available roster spots for snowboardcross, a high-octane mix between snowboarding and motocross. “My focus has totally been on making the team and staying on top of school.”
“I lost valuable time with my injury, but I’ve worked hard to make it up,” says Tunnicliffe, who couldn’t even walk four months ago. After a grueling rehab, the 24-year-old returned to competition just five weeks after doctors repaired his ankle in December 2008.
In 2010, snowboardcross will make its second Olympic appearance after debuting in 2006 in Torino, Italy. Competitors gear up in protective armour and hurtle downhill at speeds in excess of 60 kilometres per hour, racing each other and the clock. Steep banks, jumps and hairpin turns are fixtures on the special courses, as are spectacular wipe-outs. “It’s total mayhem, but a total rush,” he says.
UBC’s materials engineering program – ranked among the best in North America – attracted the Gananoque, Ont. native to UBC. “Materials and how things are made have always fascinated me,” says Tunnicliffe, who learned the qualities and processes required to produce nanomaterials, biomaterials, composites and metals.
Tunnicliffe says the Faculty of Applied Science is one of his biggest fans, providing flexibility and more than $5,000 in financial support. “They have been so supportive. Everyone is always pumped to hear about how things are going.”
“It was a really challenging season, but the adversity made me both a better athlete and student,” says Tunnicliffe, who tracks his progress daily in a training journal. “Having to juggle school and sport, plus the injury, really made me dig deep,” he says. “I learned the importance of goals, blocking out distractions, staying focused, time management and the ability to perform at the right time, under pressure.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to use all these skills up on Cypress during the 2010 Winter Games.”
Last month, the Canadian Snowboard Federation recognized Tunnicliffe’s dedication to snowboarding with a $5,000 award, named after the late Canadian snowboarder Jake Holden.