Through the roar of the crowd at Ramsau am Dachstein/WM Stadium, Erika Kalin is laser-focused. The cheering fans, 5-people deep give her the adrenaline she needs to push to the finish, but it is the sound of one particular voice that Kalin seeks - her long-time training guide Reinhart Shultz. Kalin is visually impaired and it is the calm, steady encouragement of Schultz that helped guide the Swiss athlete to a spectacular gold-medal finish in the 5klm Classic at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
Crossing the line with arms raised to the sky, she was exuberant - it was apparent to the hundreds of fans in attendance that they had just witnessed incredible athleticism. "My heart was pounding hard but it set a rhythm for my body and I felt like I was flying across the snow," says Kalin. "The feeling was incredible, amazing, like heaven!"
The bond between Kailin and Schultz is one of trust, safety and comfort. The pair trains together several times a week. As her guide during competition, Schultz is allowed to use only his voice to to help Kalin navigate the track, skiing the course simultaneously and allowing his words to move her through obstacles, turns and other competitors. It is the sound and inflections in Shcultz' voice that trigger Kalin's athleticism to respond to the vocal instructions. Schultz is not allowed to physically provide any assistance to Kalin during a race.
"Prior to a race, the nuances of the track are studied to design the best competition plan. During a race, I know that Reinhart is looking ahead and relaying every aspect of the track so the I can confidently and aggressively attack the course."
Kailin trains with her coaches and teammates on snow and practices the normal training methods one might find on any cross country track, as well as regular conditioning such as mountain biking and running year-round. To support these efforts and also improve Kalin's race times, Schultz has introduced some unique training tools into the mix. He uses photos and images to provide reference points and strong visualizations that set in motion Kalin ability to relate to certain commands during competitions.
In addition to her Gold-Medal finish in the 5klm Classic, Kalin took silver in the 10klm Freestyle earlier in the day. She will compete in the team event later in the week.
Post World Games, Kalin plans to compete in the Switzerland National Championship Alpine Skiing race.