MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A high school Nordic skier with a disability is one step closer to being on a level playing field with his peers.
Sophomore Michael LeBlanc skis for Benilde St. Margaret’s. His disability prevents him from holding ski poles, but that hasn’t stopped him — nor his coaches — from getting the recognition they feel he deserves.
Overcoming personal obstacles is nothing new for 16-year-old LeBlanc. His arms lack certain bones and muscles. He can barely extend them, and only has a three fingers between his two hands.
So he skis, using only his legs and his core, competing against able-bodied teens.
“It’s a challenge in that like I get passed a lot, but it’s also like a thrill, also, which is really exciting,” LeBlanc said.
Last year, Head Coach Kate Hokanson started “time factoring” his runs, or adjusting his finishing time as though he was using his arms. It’s an algorithm used in the Paralympics, knocking off a certain percentage of the finishing time based on the athlete’s disability.
“When we started looking at what those times would be, I could tell that he was like, ‘That’s the time that I’ve been working for! That’s the time that I earned and deserve!’” Hokanson said. “I think that’s amazing. He’s just really self-motivated.”
Starting this season, his school’s conference, the Metro West, will allow time factoring for his runs. It gives him a better chance to be one of the top finishers on his team.
“It says that like, ‘Hey, you’re a skier and we want to be fair to you,’” LeBlanc said.
His teammates have always had his back.
“If I want to pursue time factoring, they say go for it because they see that I put in the effort,” he said.
Another uphill battle this Nordic skier has proved he can climb.
Thursday afternoon, BSM’s Nordic ski team competed in the Metro West Meet at the Hyland Park Reserve. LeBlanc’s father tells WCCO-TV his son finished with a factored time of 10:40, good enough for 26th out of the varsity competitors. His team placed third in the meet.
LeBlanc’s father said his son’s time positively contributed to the team’s third place finish.
Time factoring is also recognized in the Metro East conference. LeBlanc’s coaches and family are preparing to petition with the Minnesota State High School League in the offseason to have it applied across state.