Two decades after winning the first-ever Olympic gold medal in men's snowboarding for Canada, losing it following a positive marijuana test, and then having the medal reinstated, Ross Rebagliati has a message for his fellow athletes: far from keeping users glued to the couch, cannabis can be a powerful tool for training.
Rebagliati's cannabis brand, Ross' Gold, was front and centre at the Lift & Co. cannabis trade expo in Toronto on Friday, May 25, hawking gold bongs and and rolling papers with the slogan "Inhale the good s—-, exhale the bulls—-." The company plans to franchise Ross' Gold marijuana dispensaries after legalization.
A steady stream of fans dropped by the Ross' Gold booth to pose for photos with the Olympic champion, browse his products, and admire his medal from the 1998 Nagano games.
"Pretty much everybody that comes by is a fan in one way or another, or has some kind of story about where they were twenty years ago when I won," said Rebagliati in an interview with The Leaf News, flashing a gleaming gold tooth with the Ross' Gold cannabis leaf logo. (He got the custom crown after breaking his front incisor in half last year.)
"A lot of guys that were in Grade 5 20 years ago are now in the (cannabis) industry, and remember me from their childhoods."
Now almost 47 years old, Rebagliati remembers making a positive association between cannabis and athletics during the heyday of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"He made no bones about it back in the day," he said. "He did photoshoots with him smoking joints after his workouts to recover and to relax, because it's zero carbs, zero calories and for a bodybuilder that's crucial, right?"Advertisement
'...When I moved to Whistler in 1990, I ran into a whole bunch of athletes, extreme sports athletes like extreme skiers, that would wake up first thing in the morning and start blazing joints right away' - Olympic snowboarder turned weed entrepreneur Ross Rebagliati
Rebagliati tried weed for the first time in the late 1980s, but "never really got into it."
"And then when I moved to Whistler in 1990, I ran into a whole bunch of athletes, extreme sports athletes like extreme skiers, that would wake up first thing in the morning and start blazing joints right away."
"And I was like, 'Whoa, what are you guys doing? I can't even believe you guys are smoking joints right now!'" he recalled.
But Rebagliati soon found a role for cannabis in his training regimen.
"I started trying it, and I realized that you could hike ten kilometres and it felt like one kilometre," he said.
"You could do all this endurance stuff, and what you would normally shy away from, like the pain of how long it is and the heavy breathing and your legs and your body protesting what you're up to... It's not a workout anymore, it's a euphoria feeling. It just changed the whole idea of what being an athlete was to me, in my head."
Rebagliati still uses cannabis when he exercises.
"I just wake up, I do one, and I feel great," he said. "It makes me more motivated to throw on my biking shoes and go to my workout.
"Back in the day, when I was on the World Cup tour, it took a lot of motivation some days to get out of bed and work out and do the same thing, and it's pouring rain, and you're a Canadian athlete, broke as f—-, you don't have your bills paid and you're going to the gym instead of to work, so there's a conflict.
"A lot of times you need the extra motivation to follow through with your goals, and for me it was cannabis that gave me that 'pop' in the morning, that made me really want to focus in and follow through with my goal and my dream."
During a "Cannabis in Sport" panel on Sunday, May 27, Rebagliati told the audience that cannabis can help athletes with more than just motivation — other potential benefits include increased body awareness, inflamation control, appetite enhancement, and post-workout relaxation, he said.
Cannabis is "not necessarily for everybody," said co-panellist Philippe Dépault, a former competitive cyclist who now heads the Quebec-focused cannabis brand Maïtri. Because exercise can amplify the psychoactive effects of THC, he said, he tries to use it twenty to thirty minutes before exerting himself to avoid the "big rush" of the drug's onset.
Once opposed to marijuana, Dépault started using it for medical purposes after he got sick returning from a training camp in New Zealand. Now, he vaporizes concentrated cannabis solutions before road biking, running, and practicing yoga.
"I feel like the cannabis can help me to be super mindful, super focused, super self-aware of my pain," he told the crowd. "It helps me to reduce the pain, but it also helps me to go further than if I didn't consume before."
Professional Canadian arm-wrestler Devon "No Limits" Larratt spoke about about his experiments with cannabis, but said he hadn't yet used it during competition.
"I'd love to compete with it, I don't know if it's legal yet. I don't know — am I in trouble?" he said, throwing up his arms in an "arrest me already" gesture.
"Take me away! Whatever, it's a new age, and I think we're realizing that this is part of a healthy lifestyle and as Canadians, we're just accepting that marijuana is going to be the next thing, next to coffee and alcohol, that's just assimilated into our society."
With their business ventures in the cannabis industry, athletes like Rebagliati and Dépault are betting on that.
"I think brands will play very great roles in educating the population about cannabis," Dépault said during the panel.
"I think we will see more and more athlete-focused brands in the cannabis space, like active lifestyle brands."
Dépault's Maïtri brand is already running a cannabis-friendly running club in Montreal, and offers "elevated yoga" classes, he said.
"A lot of people show up to these events, so we see that people have tons of questions that are unanswered right now in the market."
Despite his messaging around the athletic potential of cannabis, Rebagliati told The Leaf News he's not trying to evangelize to anyone.
"We don't need to. The market is huge, it's massive, it's pre-existing," he said, contrasting Canada's current cannabis boom against the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
"You had to actually convince people to buy a phone or to get an email address, or to log onto Facebook for the first time," he said.
"There's always been a market for weed, like forever... people have been using cannabis since the dawn of time."