Grandi, Renner speed into hotel industry

Canadian Olympians Sara Renner and Thomas Grandi, left, put finishing touches to one of the guest rooms at their lodge in Canmore, Alta. on May 5, 2010. The cross-country skier and her husband Thomas, a former Olympian in alpine skiing, have made a small boutique hotel in Canmore their post-Olympic careers. Both athletes say they've stayed in enough hotels around the world to know what a customer wants. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal stringer

CANMORE, Alta. - Sara Renner was racing in front of the world at the Olympics just a few weeks ago. Now she's scrubbing toilets.

The world and Olympic medallist in cross-country skiing has gone straight from elite athlete to hard-working businesswoman.

Renner and husband Thomas Grandi, a former national alpine team skier, have taken over a small boutique hotel in Renner's hometown of Canmore.

They were in the throes of a mini-renovation this week in preparation for guests arriving Thursday. Renner was busy cleaning bathrooms while Grandi was installing headboards and footboards for beds.

"We're getting to know the business," Renner said as she dodged mattresses in the halls. "I've cleaned every single bathroom in here.

"From the very practical job of chambermaiding and taking bookings and designing this new kitchen we're going to put in, if you are going to run a business, it's good to do it from the bottom up. Then you know what it's like."

Renner is a four-time Olympian, winner of a bronze medal at the world championships in 2005 and an Olympic silver medal in 2006 in the relay with Beckie Scott.

The 34-year-old raced her last event for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics on Feb. 27 and finished 16th in the 30K.

Grandi, 37, competed in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics and won nine World Cup medals in alpine skiing during his career. He retired in 2007, but began competing again with a view to the 2010 Games. He decided to retire again in 2009.

Renner and Grandi have spent enough nights in hotels around the world during their careers to know what they, and their guests, would want in a hotel room.

"Being on the road and being in so many different places around the world, we've been exposed to a lot of different accommodation," Grandi said. "We can create something that, when we were on the road, we would have just loved to stay at."

Grandi bought The Paintbox Lodge in downtown Canmore three years ago, but between their athletic careers and the birth of their daughter Aria, the couple wasn't able to take over the management of it until now.

"Transitioning into another life is challenging," Grandi admitted. "I was at Alberta Alpine as president for a season and I really enjoyed myself, but felt that I wanted to be self-employed and find a project and something I could be passionate about, put my heart and soul in and be proud of.

"We found this little lodge here in downtown Canmore that we feel aligns really well with a lot of our values and our beliefs."

Grandi and Renner are an environmentally conscious couple involved in the David Suzuki Foundation's Play It Cool program for athletes.

Grandi also hand-delivered a letter signed by several athletes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Calgary office in December. The letter urged Harper to support a binding agreement at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

At home, their water is solar-heated and they hang-dry their laundry instead of putting it in the dryer.

At the lodge this week, Renner cleaned bathrooms with environmental cleaning products. Grandi and Renner are using low-energy light bulbs and also plan to buy a fleet of bikes for guests to use as transport around Canmore, instead of their cars.

"Our goal is to create a sustainable, environmentally friendly lodge that we can be very proud of," Grandi said.

Retirement can be terrifying for an Olympic athlete. They've been good at something all their lives and step into the unknown when their careers are done. Some don't even know what they should do next.

Renner says she left at the right time.

"I feel so fresh from retiring," she said. "It's really made me appreciate what I had as an athlete. I would say to athletes to really enjoy your career right now.

"Also, when you retire, the world is your oyster. There's so many things that we've learned from being athletes that you could apply to real life."

Renner's family ran Assiniboine Lodge in the B.C. back country for years. Renner worked there in the summers, so the hospitality industry isn't new to her.

"I started scrubbing toilets to fund my ski racing, so here I am doing it again," she said. "There were parts of ski racing that were extremely difficult that I would say are like scrubbing toilets. Those hard intervals I did, it's a toss-up right now which I would rather do."