Sports

Luge accident sparks welding interest

Sarah Podorieszach

Now enrolled in SAIT’s welding technician program, Sarah Podorieszach was once a world class luge athlete. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH PODORIESZACH

As Sarah Podorieszach slid down a German G-force tunnel, a bad turn shattered her future in Olympic luge, leading her to pursue a future through SAIT’s welding technician program.

Podorieszach was born and raised in Calgary; however, ‘like father like daughter’, she has dual-citizenship in both Italy and Canada. It was also her father’s guiding hand that pointed out an ad in the newspaper for a luge summer camp at COP.

“I loved it right away, and I tried out for the team,” said Podorieszach, who entered her first luge competition at the age of 10, and joined the Calgary Luge Club at age 12.

A scout noticed her last name was Italian, and asked Sarah to join the Italian National Luge Team, a decision that would prove to be difficult for Sarah to make.

“I would have liked to be with Canada,” said Podorieszach, feeling closer to her country of birth, but at the age of 15 she went “da solo” to Italia. Within a year, she went from hardley knowing the language to speaking fluent Italian. In the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Podorieszach finished 11th in the women’s singles event.

Her teenage years were stressful. Here in Calgary, she attended a national sports school for Grade 9. She would train eight to nine hours a day, and then sneak in a few hours of night school before bed. In Italy, she took her high school education online.

After almost a decade spent devoted to the sport, Podorieszach shattered her right ankle training for the Viessmann World Cup in Altenberg, Germany. This track is the fastest in the world at speeds of up to 150 km/hr., and lugers can reach the same G-force as astronauts in space. A special helmet with straps has to be worn to survive the pressure.

This unfortunate, ill-timed accident brought a hard end to Podorieszach’s career and her future as an Olympic luger.

“It’s too bad I’m out so early, but I’ve got to move on with my life,” said Podorieszach.

After two months in a Dresden hospital, Podorieszach came back to Calgary, and spent several more months in physiotherapy care. All that time spent healing took away time needed to stay in top physical form.

“I had a lot of time to think about the future.”

Podorieszach realized it would be too much to get back into the shape she had worked so many years to keep.

Luge is notably the most dangerous Olympic sliding sport, compared with the skeleton or bobsleigh. Lugers sled supine (face up, feet first) at speeds from 65 km/hr. to the fastest (in Germany) at 150 km/hr. Lugers steer the sled runners with certain pressures from their legs and shoulders.

The concentration and precision Podorieszach brought to luge will now be focused on her welding work.

“I like that it takes a lot of patience and concentration, like in luge,” said Podorieszach.

Podorieszach came to SAIT having heard good references from some friends.

“I thought it looked challenging, something new for me to try,” said Podorieszach.

Since Jan. 3, she has been in the program, and will receive her Welding Technician Certificate on June 22. By that time, she will have found a company to be indentured in, where she will need to complete 5,400 hours of work, before completing a third year of school at SAIT.

“I’m definitely liking it. Honestly, I just want a nice steady job,” said Podorieszach after her luge career took her around all the globe’s slide tracks.

“If it hadn’t been for the injury I would have been in Vancouver and later Russia,” said Podorieszach. Russia will host the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Currently, Podorieszach enjoys having a life that is a dramatically different lifestyle.

“At first it was hard, very hard,” she said.

“I’m not an athlete anymore. I love golfing and fishing; I can just relax instead of training 24/7.”

Like many athletes, Podorieszach has proven determination and spirit through adversity. Even from a young age, she has strived for success.

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