Athletes in the NWT’s winter sports are ramping up their training after pandemic delays set up a season where two major events fall within days of each other.
The Arctic Winter Games, which should have been held in Fort McMurray last spring, are now scheduled for late January and early February 2023. The Canada Winter Games take place from February 18 to March 5 on Prince Edward Island.
Normally, the two events don’t occur in the same season.
That means some NWT speed skaters had twin focuses at the annual summer camp that precedes such a busy winter.
Sport director Jody Pellissey said Speed Skating NWT has had to shift thinking from two years of managing Covid-19 protocols to training for the Arctic and Canada Winter Games.
“It’s a different kind of pressure than a regular competition, and our kids are coming off of two years of very few competitions,” said Pellissey.
“We’re trying to make them as prepared as possible.”
Last week’s camp welcomed 23 speed skaters aged nine to 18, including some from Fort Simpson and Hay River, at Yellowknife’s multiplex.
At competitions, skaters compete in up to four individual races of varying lengths alongside a team relay.
Yellowknife’s Lochlan Dunn, aged 16, is building up to what would be his first Arctic Winter Games. Dunn is working to ensure he and his team are fast enough to qualify by the deadline.
Dunn said the camp was “awesome” with “great coaches and great drills.”
Marika Nadal, the Calgary Speed Skating Association’s head coach, and Sam Pollock were the guest coaches at last weeks’ camp.
Nadal said similar camps played a key role in preparing her to compete as a speed skater at the 2011 Canada Winter Games.
“Looking at this group here, they have everything they need. They have great support, they’re getting the right preparation, they’re getting physically ready,” Nadal said.
“We have mental performance today, so we’re getting ourselves mentally prepared as well.
“I think the NWT teams are strong. I think it’s a strong team.”
Not all participants in the summer camp were training for the same competitions.
Josh Boudreau used the camp to “get his feet back underneath him” and train for the Special Olympics Provincial Winter Games.
If he does well, Boudreau will progress to nationals in Calgary and potentially on to the world championship in Italy in 2025. As the NWT’s lone representative and a gold and silver medalist at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in 2020, Boudreau said he has a lot of support from the community and just loves the sport.
“When I first started, I fell in love with it,” said Beaudreau.
“So, we’re doing it because we love it.”
Pellissey says “it’s fantastic” to be able to host the camp and share Yellowknife’s facilities with communities such as Fort Simpson, where skaters rely on natural ice and can’t start training until much later.
The camp’s five days featured training on ice and dry land alongside workshops in mental health, nutrition and other aspects of performance.
Pellissey added that registration opens at the end of the month for anyone interested in getting involved in speed skating.
Nadal said the community aspect of NWT speed skating could only strengthen the territory’s team.
“They know each other so well,” she told Cabin Radio.
“With all the big provinces, some of these skaters might never skate together. But in the NWT and up north, they’ve been training with each other forever.
“That’s the biggest advantage. I think what’s going to be the difference for this team is their teamwork.”