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Canada's McKeever swaps skis for tuxedo, nominated for Laureus World Sport Award

CALGARY — From a glitzy awards ceremony in Monaco to the nordic trails of Prince George, B.C., Brian McKeever is in for a whirlwind week.

CALGARY — From a glitzy awards ceremony in Monaco to the nordic trails of Prince George, B.C., Brian McKeever is in for a whirlwind week.

A winner of 13 Paralympic and 19 world championship gold medals in cross-country skiing, the 39-year-old from Canmore, Alta., is nominated for a Laureus World Sports Award.

McKeever will miss a pair of races at the world para-nordic championships that start Friday in Prince George in order to attend Monday's ceremony at The Sporting Club Monte Carlo.

He will re-join the host Canadian team in time to compete in two events before the world championships conclude Feb. 24.

"It's a unique opportunity I felt I couldn't miss and important enough ... to even miss a couple of the races at our world championships for this," McKeever said.

Laureus presents awards in seven categories: sportswoman, sportsman, team, breakthrough, comeback, disability and action.

Past winners include Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Yao Ming, Michael Schumacher, Lindsey Vonn, the Chicago Cubs and FC Bayern Munich.

Laureus runs an academy and a foundation to promote social change and celebrate excellence through sport.

Sponsored by international luxury-brand companies, the annual gown and tux awards ceremony is the organization's showcase.

Actor James Marsden ("X-Men", "Westworld") is this year's master of ceremonies. Legendary football manager Arsene Wenger confirmed earlier this week he's attending the gala.

McKeever's three gold and a bronze at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, earned him a nomination in the category of athletes with a disability.

He's up against Slovak skier Henrieta Farkasova, Dutch wheelchair tennis player Diede de Groot, American nordic skier Oksana Masters, German long-jumper Markus Rehm and Greek boccia player Grigorios Polychronidis.

McKeever, who is visually impaired, has laid tracks in his sport for the next generation of Canadian skiers with the sheer number of medals he's won.

A total of 17 Paralympic medals make him both Canada's most decorated Paralympian and the most successful Paralympic nordic skier of all time.

He says his sixth and final Paralympic Games in 2022 will be his last. He wants taking Canadian para-nordic skiing to an international red carpet to be included in his legacy.

"It's a big deal," McKeever said. "It's obviously a huge honour and the highlight of a career to be on the bill for that.

"It's intimidating actually because it's so far out of the normal comfort zone for most Canadian amateur athletes.

"I've certainly never been in a tux. Why would I? I'm mostly in sweatpants."

Canadian senator and former wheelchair racer Chantal Peticlerc won a Laureus in 2005. Para-sprinter Earle Connor also won in 2004, but the award was later rescinded because of doping violations.

Brian's older brother Robin guided him to seven of his Paralympic gold medals and is currently the head coach of Canada's para-nordic team.

"One of things Rob and I have talked about a lot is having parity between the Olympic and Paralympic games and we've really pushed the Paralympic side to modernize and get recognized in that way, partly by leading by example and by talking to our team about it," Brian said.

"(Laureus) having a Paralympic category for athletes with a disability right up there with Roger Federer and Serena Williams, male and female athletes of the year, it's showing a parity there too."

In McKeever's absence, Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I., leads the Canadian team into Prince George.

Arendz's six cross-country and biathlon medals in Pyeongchang set a record for the most medals won in a single Winter Games by a Canadian Paralympian.

The host team also includes 17-year-old Natalie Wilkie of Salmon Arm, B.C., who won a medal of every colour in Pyeongchang, Colin Cameron of Sudbury, Ont., Brittany Hudak of Prince Albert, Sask., and Vancouver's Emily Young.

Derek Zaplotinsky of Smokey Lake, Alta., Yves Bourque of Becancour, Que., Ethan Hess of Pemberton, B.C., Kyle Barber of Lively, Ont., Jesse Bachinsky of Kenora, Ont., and his Victoria guide Simon Larmarche round out the team.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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