Welcome to my blog! This is a site where you can keep up to date on my life as a full-time athlete in the sport of cross country skiing. You can expect regular updates throughout the year as I report on training, racing, life in general and maybe even some school. Sponsors, family, friends and fans: Enjoy!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Back in Action

The last year has been trying on my confidence. Both confidence in my outlook as a ski racer as well as confidence in my future of being able to just stay active. You see, I was dealing with a nagging knee injury that was preventing me from using my left leg properly, and also a mysterious abdominal injury that was preventing me from breathing hard and preventing me from effectively using my core muscles. I was forced to take off virtually the entire 2013/2014 racing season. Training was constantly held back by flare-ups of the injuries. I also couldn't run at all because of my knee and I couldn't walk very far either. Continuing to attempt to race in that condition was pointless. So I decided to take some time off. I battled through the semester of studies at Nipissing University while sitting out the ski season. I achieved really good marks in all of my classes, and yet it was some of the most depressing times of my life. I took two months completely off of any exercise. I have never done that in my entire life, except maybe in the short period of time between my birth and when I gained crawling mobility. During this sedentary time I greatly missed the simple things of exercising outdoors: the smells of the forest, the nip of the wind on a long ski, the feeling of moving through a place efficiently carried on your own two feet... 

After two months of sloth and physio, my injuries showed no signs of healing. They had seemed to get worse over this time. If doing nothing was making them worse, I wondered what minimal exercise would do to them. So I started to gradually move again. I returned to biking up the giant hill to school every day. I scraped off my skis for the last few weeks of the ski season. I got back in the gym to build my body back from its frail and pale state that it had deteriorated to in the past months. 

Progress was slow. I knew I couldn't train a real training schedule all summer, so I decided to get a job in Yellowknife for the summer. I worked a somewhat lucrative summer student position with the territorial government, like many of my childhood friends had done over the previous summers while I was away training down south. I lived at home with my parents and also house-sat at a beautiful Old Town shack on a cliff overlooking Back Bay of Great Slave Lake. While staying in the shack, I read a famous book by a famous northern writer. I later met the author (René Fumoleau) one night at Boston Pizza and found out that he used to live in that same shack in the 1940s and that he in fact wrote his famous book while living there. 

Out spring goose hunting near Yellowknife with my family. This marked the beginning of a 4-month stint in Yellowknife.

I also gave back to NWT youth athletes. I attended weekly rollerski practice, mostly to get to know the new up-and-comers in the sport and to spend time with my own childhood skiing idol, Mike Argue, who is now the head coach of the Yellowknife High Performance Ski Team. I also got to attend the North American Indigenous Games in Regina, Saskatchewan, as an official with Team NWT. 

Having just read Joseph Boyden's "The Orenda", I was excited to see Team Haudenosaunee (the Haudenosaunee feature prominently in Boyden's novel) present at the 2014 North American Indigenous Games in Regina, Saskatchewan. The 2014 NAIG was a fantastic cultural and sporting event that formed strong friendships and bonds between the indigenous peoples of North America. I was proud to represent Team NWT and to be a part of it all!

During the summer, I also got to relive my summer family vacation on the east arm of Great Slave Lake - a place that I often escape to in my day dreams. 

My childhood friend and short-track speed skating Olympian, Michael Gilday, looking east over Christie Bay on Great Slave Lake.

Wildbread Bay on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake (and yes, every rock on this beach was a skipper rock). 

Yellowknife was under a constant haze of forest fire smoke for the entire summer of 2014.

Before I knew it, the summer was over. My body was slightly improved, but the physio exercises and other interventions recommended by my doctor had not worked. I was excited for an appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon in Vancouver in September about a minor surgery for my knee. I skipped two weeks of school and went to Vancouver for the much anticipated appointment. I made sure to push the knee in the few weeks lead-up to the appointment so that the location of the pain was very apparent for the doctors. In Vancouver and Whistler, I rollerskied, mountain biked, hiked, lifted weights, and even went running for a mini two-week solo training camp. Oddly, the knee did not flare up. I saw the doctor and he said that the pain was too diffuse and unspecific to warrant surgery. 

I was relieved to not have sharp things near my knee, as well as to not have to deal with a fall-time rehab while also balancing school and also hoping to race a bit in the winter. The future of my knee health was still unsure in my mind. 

I returned to North Bay to catch up on the two weeks of school I had missed for my doctor's appointment in Vancouver. 

The rest of the fall up until now has seen real progress in health and in training. I left Yellowknife at the end of the summer stronger than when I had arrived in Yellowknife, thanks to twice-weekly lunch-time gym sessions with my childhood ski coach and the ever-edifying, Corey McLachlan. I managed to bulk up enough that my summertime professional work attire began to bulge at the seams. Perhaps this improved strength and musculature that I gained helped to stabilize my knee before my doctor's appointment in Vancouver. 

During the fall I kept pushing the strength in order to build a more solid and stable frame. I attended team training. I began working with decorated ex-National Team member and Nipissing's new assistant coach, Dave Nighbor. I started to do some harder intensity. The mysterious abdominal issue still limited me from breathing hard. I loaded up on chiro, physio and massage appointments with my team of therapists in North Bay. We have finally got a handle on the abdominal issue. The new treatment has been allowing me to push my body harder and harder with each week that passes. 10 minutes of zone 3 became 20 minutes, then 30 minutes. Next thing I knew I was pushing into zone 4 for the first time in ten months. And I could run again (albeit slowly). And then next thing I knew, I survived a 22 hour training week on-snow at Foret Montmorency, Quebec, with a time trial included. The time trial was a major test of whether I would be competing in early season races this year. It would dictate whether or not I would hit the start-line this December. Despite really restricted breathing in the second half of the 10 km time trial, I was able to mix it up with some of my competitors. Just imagine what would be possible if my abdominal issue continues to mend and am able to breath properly in a race setting! I guess we will find out this December 20th and 21st in my first NorAm races in Whistler, BC. 

Connor Psiuk (left) and Jordan Cascagnette enjoying the 2.4 km loop of early season snow at Foret Montmorency, Québec, during a Nipissing University ski team training camp. 

Local North Bay boy and Nipissing's new assistant coach, Dave Nighbor. 

I am excited to push my body and challenge myself in a race once again. This last year has taught me to appreciate any physical activity in any form. Challenging a functioning body in a ski race is the pinnacle of physical activity for me, and I am excited to experience that feeling again. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Out of Action For a Time

Two weeks ago I nervously blundered through my first live radio interview just days before the start of the Olympic trials races in Canmore, AB. My radio appearance was the result of me chiming in on twitter about a CBC news article mentioning Northerners who were trying out for the Olympics, an article in which they forgot to mention me as the lone Yellowknife Ski Club athlete in attendance. Sure, the radio interview was good for exposure as an amateur athlete, but my chime-in on twitter was more so because I had been forgotten as one of the few northern ski racers in Canada and less so to say that I was legitimately trying out for the Olympics. Not that the Olympics weren't a dream of mine. One of the questions that I was asked was how I had been preparing for these races. I blurted out something about skiing in Europe in December. Later, after my dad had listened to the interview, he mentioned that I should have said how I have been preparing for this my whole life, since I was 3 years old.

You see, my training leading up to the races had not been optimal, and this probably added to the nervousness of being live on the air. In the radio interview I mentioned my old knee injury several times and how my goals and expectations for the races had been adjusted after 2 years of inconsistent training. Although training has been inconsistent, there have been some periods of consistency. In the fall I was really excited to start the race season. Training was going decently well and I was starting to show good signs of fitness.

Two weeks before leaving for Italy and the World University Games, I felt a bit of discomfort in my abdomen. I took some rest. It wasn't a huge issue and it didn't affect me much in the one race I did overseas. Once I was back in Canada, it was a major issue in my high intensity sessions in preparation for the Olympic sprint trial races. I went to the hospital and was told that I have a spigelian hernia, which is a shearing between layers of abdominal muscle. Racing was out of the question. Aches and pains are normal in any high level sport, but for a seemingly minor issue to completely shut down my body was a big frustration. There was no crazy weight lifting or any discernible specific moment when the injury happened - it just gradually cropped up and got worse even though I was resting it. 

As it stands, I am out of action for an unknown amount of time. It is now a matter of going through all the steps of doctor and hospital visits. I may require surgery. The one upside is that I am currently in school and have something to fall back onto while ski racing is on hold. I am dreaming of the day when I am healthy and can let loose on the ski trails once again. Regaining that health is my #1 priority.

Here is a picture from a photo shoot I had last year with my friend Jen and photographer Toshi Kawano. It's at the inspiring Callaghan Country near Whistler, my favourite place to ski. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Into the Tunnel

I just got back to Canada after a relaxing Christmas in Sweden. Kajsa and I decided that since we were already over in Europe, why not visit some friends and some of her relatives in nearby Sweden? We caught up with our friend from Whistler, Emil, who now lives in the town of Arvika. He and his girlfriend were off visiting dozens of various relatives for Christmas eve and Christmas day, and so Kajsa and I had a quiet Christmas in Emil's cozy house. 

Our stay in Sweden was very non-wintery. Europe has had a very bad snow year in general, and the area we were in was no exception. Emil was complaining about still having to mow his lawn. Luckily, an hour's drive away is the Torsby ski tunnel, a state of the art 1.3 km year-round refrigerated concrete tunnel located in the small village of Torsby. 

Christmas in Sweden at Emil and Sanna's was about Julmust, Glögg, candy, cozy homes and good company.

As a skier, the weather in Sweden could have been better. Europe is experiencing its worst winter in years. 

Kajsa and I made our Swedish hosts a Canadian Christmas dinner one night. We opted for roast chicken instead of turkey because Swedish turkeys are 7 times more expensive than their Canadian counterparts. 

Emil, Kajsa and I took a trip to the Torsby ski tunnel to seek out snow in green Sweden. Skiing in a tunnel has been a dream of mine for some time, and it did not disappoint. Emil attended high school in Torsby. He seemed to know everybody in town. We trained with Emil's old school buddies for all of our sessions in the tunnel. Many of his friends still reside in the area and are very high level skiers. Emil mentioned that his high school has produced the most winter sport world champions and olympic champions of any high school in the world.

Emil and I in the 1.3 km Torsby Ski Tunnel.

I was surprised with the quality of training offered by the tunnel. I was surprised with how big the hills were. The old, dirty and slow snow also made for extra skiing resistance, a training challenge that I am familiar from growing up training on the sandpaper snow of Yellowknife. Each day in the tunnel was very productive. To have this year round and to have the option of mixing up summer training with on-snow practice made this tiny Swedish town pretty impressive. According to Emil, the training in Torsby is "absolutely perfect". I would tend to agree, except for the lack of snow so far this winter!

 A new goal of mine is to race the Vasaloppet in the next few years. Here is Emil Svensson and his father standing in front of the map of the famed Vasaloppet. The three generations of Svenssons get together for ski training year round. They even roller ski together. On this particular session in the tunnel, Emil's father skied with us for over 3 hours.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ciao for now, Italy!

The World University Games came to an end this past week. Unfortunately, I only got to race the sprint qualifier of the 6 race schedule as illness derailed my Games. But it was still a great cultural experience getting to spend two weeks in Italy. I am now in Sweden for a week before heading back to Canada on New Year's Eve. There is no snow where we are staying in Arvika, and we will soon be heading up to Torsby to ski in the ski tunnel for a few days. Check back soon for an update on things in Sweden.

Here are a few last pics from the World University Games:

Very trusting Italians leave bikes and bags unlocked and unattended in the streets of Ziano. 

Kajsa racing in the women's 15 km classic mass start on Friday. 

Watching two live ski races at the same time on Saturday, as I was still recovering at the hotel from illness. The World Cup in Asiago, Italy, was on at the same time as the men's 30 km classic in Val di Fiemme. 

Finally getting to experience Canazei in all its glory, further up the valley from Val di Fiemme. This is where the men's hockey final (Canada won) and closing ceremonies were held. 

Mad trading was going down at the arena. Here's Harry Seaton and I sealing the deal on hard-to-get Chinese backpacks. Nobody has any business making backpacks this nice. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Illness and skipping the 10 km skate

Sorry that it has been 3 days since my last post - I wasn't able to get on the internet at all yesterday. 

Unfortunately I had to skip the 10 km skate race on Tuesday. The few days before I had a sore throat and a bit of the sniffles. My resting heart rate was 75-85 bpm the days leading up to the race instead of my usual of around 50 bpm or just under. Usually it is not advisable to race when you are not healthy, but I have raced once before while having a weird sore throat and had a great race. This was at Canada Winter Games in 2011 in the 10 km skate. I was hoping I could repeat that performance on Tuesday despite not feeling 100% healthy. So I tried a usual warm-up. My zone 1 heart rate was really high while skiing to the race site on the Marcialonga trail. After struggling to ski at a zone 3 pace for 5 minutes in my warm-up, I knew that racing would do more damage than good. Racing while ill can jeopardize the rest of a season. So I turned around and headed home and watched the race on TV. That night the cold symptoms hit me full on and I have been pretty congested since.

I am hoping to suddenly feel better for tomorrow so that I can assess for Saturday's 30 km. At the moment I am pretty disappointed to come all the way over here to Italy to race for less than 4 minutes in a frustrating sprint preliminary round. Luckily, I was talking to a Swedish wax tech yesterday who mentioned that there is a race close to where I will be staying in Sweden during the holidays. My aim is to recover from the illness to get a good race under my belt before heading to Canmore for the NorAms in the new year. 

In the region where we are staying, a lot of food is grown closer to home, as shown in this garden plot in someone's yard. Even in the middle of downtown areas, there are garden plots squeezed into people's small yards. In general, while staying here in Italy I have been amazed at the different way of life compared to North Americans. In the area where we have been staying, people work for a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the late afternoon, and that's it. Kids attend school for half days every day. It seems to be a leisure-based economy that is very family-time oriented (read my last post about Italians hitting the slopes midday, leaving towns eerily quite midday. Those who don't ski head home for an extended family lunch and rest). 

The quality of food here is also far, far better than in North Bay (probably better than the West Coast of Canada too). A lot of food is grown locally and naturally. Here is someone's backyard pen full of white front geese, ducks and chickens. 

Locally sourced energy: the primary source of heating in Val di Fiemme is from wood. Each building has a well-stocked firewood shed. 

Getting out for some fresh air with Harry Seaton, with the Tour de Ski's Alpe Cermis in the background. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Exploring the Dolomites (photo journal edition)

On our recent off-day a group of us skiers caught a gondola up to the top of a ski resort in Predazzo. We were treated to stunning views of the Dolomites. We also found where all the Italians go in the middle of the day. The other day we were shopping in a nearby town and noticed that most stores are open from 10-noon and then 4:00-6:00 pm. In between those times, towns are deserted. When we were up at the top of the mountain, we found all of the locals skiing or else sunbathing and enjoying a pizza and beer on one of many ski hut balconies. It made for interesting discussions over lunch as we compared the Italian way of life with the 9-5 North American workday. Around here, things are at a different pace. But everyone is in shape and seems to spend their afternoons out skiing. Taking an extended lunch would make especially good sense in a town like Yellowknife where you normally go to work in the dark and leave in the dark. A long lunch would make the most of the short winter daylight.

This Italian chose the even harder lunch-time option of skiing up the entire mountain. (Personally, I would love to get more into ski mountaineering)

All of the Italians may also be up here just to escape the shade of the deep valleys. Our race venue sees about 1 hour of sun per day on a 200 meter section. 

Skiing home on the Marcialonga course after ski testing this evening. Tomorrow is the 10 km individual start skate, an event that I have come to love over the last few years. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Classic Sprint

Today's post is short since there isn't a huge amount to talk about. Today I raced the 1.5 km classic sprint and wasn't very proud of my performance. I wasn't able to kick well on the climbs and lost a lot of time there. It had something to do with the skis I picked or the amount of kick that was on them. I ended up getting caught by the person who started 15 seconds behind me. I was looking forward to drafting off him into the finish, but unfortunately my skis were also slow and I didn't make up any time sitting on the Swede's draft. On a positive note, my body held up better than I thought it would after re-tweaking my back two weeks ago in training in North Bay. In the end, I was way off of qualifying in the top-30 for the heats. I don't want to read too much into this performance, but will take what I can from it and move on. I am really looking forward to the 10 km skate race on Tuesday.

The church across the street from our hotel in the quaint little town of Ziano.

Some of the men's sprint action today at Val di Fiemme.