Wee Boots to Ski Boots
Vladi Hudec (+Video)
May 1, 2019, will mark Vladi’s 33rd year in Canada, and the occasional longing for her homeland is relatively easy to remedy these days. There was a time, though, when reconnecting with family left behind was almost impossible. Vladi’s story captures the longing for what was lost and tremendous appreciation for life in town, equally friendly like her village back in the Czech Republic, but much greater in spirit and kindness.
When I was growing up in my tiny village in the Jeseniky mountains of Czechoslovakia, my mother would often say, “When you get married, you have to follow your husband to the end of the world.” Little did she know how prophetic her words would become.
In 1968, the Soviets invaded our country. I was 11 years old and remember my friends and I spitting in front of the passing Russian tanks to protest. Our world radically changed when the systematic Communist indoctrination began, and shortly after, the borders to the west were tightly sealed.
In the summer of 1982, I was married with our ten-month-old son Jan, when my husband and I announced to our parents our planned vacation to the Adriatic Sea. Purposefully, we left out the most important detail. Our itinerary had no return date! My husband’s irritation with the current political situation grew, and with great persistence, he persuaded me to follow him to the “end of the world.”
Not knowing if or when we would be able to see family again left me doubting our plan. I tried to align the fear in my heart with my pragmatic mind. The two parts of me were at war with each other. But my curiosity at discovering a colourful free world propelled me forward beyond my fears!
The time to say goodbye came quickly, and the fact that I could not reveal the truth, for security reasons, to anyone, was painful. Seeing my mother’s delighted face as she gently held her grandson’s tiny hand while he attempted his first steps on her kitchen floor brought sadness to my heart. I glimpsed what would soon be lost and began to grieve.
My aching heart was somewhat consoled watching little Jan one month later in a Yugoslavian campground, as he found tremendous joy running around in his very first burgundy-coloured shoes made from soft leather. They were stretched and scratched from playing in sand and water, and with the help of duct tape, the life of his wee shoes was extended by many months during our stay in a refugee camp.
We had been on the road for several weeks, sleeping in our Ziguli car, and Austria was already in sight, but it wasn’t our time for freedom yet. We were arrested in the alpine village of Kranjska Gora, a renowned venue for international ski races, and brought forcefully to the police station. I will never forget Jan’s eyes as big as saucers, dressed only in a diaper and his worn-out baby shoes!
Who knew that twenty-two years later, Jan would return to this very same town representing Canada in boots, much bigger and heavier than his little booties? My eyes swelled with enormous pride, seeing the Canadian flag next to my son’s name on the World Cup start list and many years later as an Olympic Bronze Medallist in Sochi – Russia – of all places!
At that moment, as I looked at Jan’s younger brother Phil, dreaming of following in his brother’s footsteps, the first 16 years in Canada flashed before me: my English language bloopers, my first job, buying our first home, starting a business and celebrating the victories and losses of both of my sons, whose love and heartfelt prayers for each other, I so admired!
I will never forget all the amazing people and dear friends who stood by us in support.
A village was needed to raise my two beautiful boys! Profound gratitude fills me to the core. The “end of the world” has become a wonderful place to be. At last, the war between my heart and my mind has come to an end.
VLADI HUDEC and her family came to Alberta in 1987 after living in Germany as refugees for five years. With her two young sons showing promise as ski racers, the family settled and completely immersed themselves in the ski community here in the Bow Valley. She became a housemother to 40 students at Banff Ski Academy and later managed retail stores. Vladi works at Wildflower Massage and Esthetics and enjoys reading, writing, playing pickleball and hiking. She loves being a grandma to two grandsons and three granddaughters.