Nancy Greene Raine, seen here skiing at Parliament Hill in February, is retiring from the senate on May 11. Photo courtesy of the Senate of Canada

Nancy Greene Raine, seen here skiing at Parliament Hill in February, is retiring from the senate on May 11. Photo courtesy of the Senate of Canada

B.C.’s Nancy Greene Raine says goodbye to politics

The B.C. senator and former Olympic skier will be turning 75 this year, and looks to retiring

Nancy Greene Raine already has her final day in the Senate planned out. First, there’s a fisheries meeting to attend. Then she’ll take part in a social affairs committee to talk about cannabis legalization.

No pomp. No party to mark the occasion. On May 11, when Greene Raine turns 75 and must therefore retire as a senator, a Canadian icon will quietly exit the public spotlight and return to where she feels most at home — the ski hill.

Fifty years ago, a then 24-year-old Rossland native stunned the world by winning an Olympic gold medal in giant slalom by an unfathomable margin of 2.68 seconds. The achievement capped a nine-year stint on the national ski team that included two World Cup titles, 17 national championships and three U.S. ski championships.

The accolades continued. She was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1967, received the Order of Canada in 1968, was named Canadian Female Athlete of the Century in 1999, and so on.

But for as long as she skied for Canada, she has also spent the same amount of time serving as a senator. She jokes that might not be a coincidence.

“Maybe I go in nine-year stretches, eh?”

Greene Raine was appointed as a Conservative senator by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in January 2009. A self-described fiscal conservative, the only elected post Greene Raine had ever run for prior to her move to Ottawa was for a school board position in Whistler, which she won by acclamation.

“I was a bit gun shy,” she said. “I never felt it was right to run for political office when you have a big name that came about in some totally unrelated field. I have nothing but respect for politicians who run for public office because they do put themselves out there and they can be and sometimes are rejected, which is very tough. So I have nothing but respect for them.”

Healthy living has been a focus for Greene Raine during her time on Parliament Hill. In 2014 she worked with former Conservative MP John Weston on the National Health and Fitness Day Act, which passed unanimously first in the Senate before again cruising through the House of Commons into law.

For the last two years, Greene Raine has been working on proposed changes to the Food and Drug Act. Bill S-228, the Child Health Protection Act, would prohibit advertising unhealthy food and beverages to children under 13.

The bill has the support of the Liberals and the NDP, and passed second reading in the House on April 18. If it becomes law, it will do so after Greene Raine is out of office. But she’s confident it will happen, even without the full support of her own party.

“I look at the unhealthy promotion of food and beverages to kids as one of the causes, not the only cause by any means, but it certainly has an impact on the rising rates of obesity,” she said. “Once a child starts to get overweight and obese, that’s kind of a life sentence. It’s really hard to roll back.”

It’s ironic that Greene Raine is taking on the Willy Wonkas of the world in the twilight of her career, because without candy many Canadians might not know who she is.

After retiring from skiing, Greene Raine started promoting Mars chocolate bars. She’d made little money as an amateur athlete, but that changed once she started appearing in commercials.

“You know, nobody recognized me in the street until after I did the Mars bar commercials. Because they are seeing you with your toque and your goggles and your helmet, it’s not the same. Once they’ve watched the commercial over and over, they recognize you.”

The celebrity that came with doing commercials opened doors for Greene Raine. But in retrospect she feels differently about the sponsorship deal now. It’s not lost on her that Bill S-228, the marquee work of her tenure in the Senate, might have prevented the commercials from ever happening had it been law at the time.

“I wouldn’t say I regret it. I would say in hindsight, in analysis, it’s not something I would do today. I think it’s very good in a way, it’s going to be easier for the athletes if they are not allowed to do it because they start getting invitations from all sorts of bad products who are offering them good money.

“I can think of some of our best known World Cup athletes in skiing who have Red Bull as their head gear sponsor. That’s a product that’s really not very good for kids and teenagers. I wouldn’t say that’s being targeted to little kids, but candy certainly is.”

Of course her lasting legacy will be what she did on skis, not who she repped on her helmet, and she’s had decades to consider the reasons for her success.

Greene Raine was born in Ottawa but grew up in the little ski town of Rossland. She learned to ski from her mother, who had a paralyzed arm and needed perfect balance while relying on her feet to turn.

When she was 17, Greene Raine suffered a broken leg. To rebuild her strength she turned to weight lifting, which was rare for skiers of the day.

“The guy who was training us, he didn’t ski, but he would just ask us, ‘What kind of muscles do you use? Where do you get tired when you ski? What are the movements that you make?’ … So I was probably always stronger pound for pound than the other athletes. Even though I wasn’t the biggest by any means, I was stronger.”

Greene Raine was already a star in international skiing before her 1968 Olympic performance. But when she went to the line for her giant slalom run in Grenoble, France, she knew she would win.

“I knew the course perfectly. I knew it really suited my way of skiing, where I was really, really smooth and very powerful. It’s a combination of being in perfect balance, having the feel of the snow and the feel for the edge and understanding exactly how much power to put on the ski and make it turn.”

Alpine ski events are often decided by milliseconds. At this year’s Pyeongchang Games, American Mikaela Shiffrin won the women’s giant slalom gold by just 0.39 seconds. Greene Raine won her gold by 2.68 seconds.

No one watching the Olympics’ broadcast saw her celebrate at the bottom of the run. Unlike the men, the women’s event was only televised for part of the course.

John Platt was head coach of the national ski team in 1968. He remembers climbing the TV tower ahead of the giant slalom, where one of the French team’s coaches helped him take Greene Raine’s time.

“She came into view and she was I think about 1.7 seconds ahead, this wasn’t at the bottom of the hill, this was maybe three quarters of the way down,” said Platt. “So he just scrubbed his watch and came over and shook my hand, because he knew there was no way Nancy was not going to win it.”

Greene Raine, who was skiing on an injured ankle, also won silver in slalom. Platt said she would have been on the downhill podium as well if the coaching staff hadn’t made a mistake waxing her skis.

In the ensuing half-century there have been just two other Canadian alpine skiers to have won Olympic gold. Greene Raine is also still 32nd overall in World Cup women’s victories with 14, which is eight more than the nearest Canadian skier.

Shortly after retiring, Greene Raine married her husband Al Raine and gave birth to twins. The family moved from Montreal to Burnaby in 1971 and built a chalet at Whistler. Al, a former national ski team coach, later went to work for the provincial government as the burgeoning mountain’s planner.

After a two-year sabbatical in the early 1980s, the family returned to Whistler, opened and sold another hotel, then relocated to Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops. Greene Raine is the resort’s director of skiing, and plans to retire there.

That, she hopes, will mean plenty more time on the slopes. Last year Greene Raine had her thyroid removed after a cancer diagnosis, and later underwent successful treatment for a form of lymphoma. She’ll have another screening in November, but for now it appears she’s cancer free and cleared to ski once more.

“Before I was a senator I skied 130 days (during the season),” she said. “I’ll be skiing 130 days next year.”



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

Environment Canada is forecasting up to 20 centimetres of snow on the Coquihalla Highway Friday, April 9, 2021. (File photo)
Snowfall warning in effect for Coquihalla Highway

Environment Canada is forecasting up to 20 cm of snow to fall on the Coquihalla Friday

The Peach is adhering to the mandatory mask protocols put in place by the Provincial Health Officer on Nov. 19. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Interior Health doesn’t echo B.C.’s daily COVID record

80 new cases reported Thursday, April 8, compared to 91 the day prior

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

A death at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna was reported in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak April 7. (Google Maps)
Death at Kelowna care home among Interior Health COVID numbers

91 new cases, outbreak over in one unit at Kelowna General Hospital

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Most Read