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!

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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Opening Ceremonies

 My mornings have been filled with essay writing for my last class that I am attempting to complete while on the road. As I sit in the bar of our race hotel at 11:00 am, wine-sipping Italians (at 11:00 am!!) chatter jovially as the morning sun breaks over the mountains and shines in through the windows. Things are more laidback around here. Also, I feel like such a bum for not understanding any Italian: I was hoping to at least pick up a bare minimum of basic sayings before coming over here, but was ultimately held up by school-work in the weeks leading up to my departure. Maybe after tomorrow’s final exam I will be able to immerse myself a little more?

Last night was the opening ceremonies. One of my teammates put it nicely: “This is my Olympics. I am fine settling for this.” For me, I have gradually made the step up from Games to Games, starting with 4 Arctic Winter Games in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006. Each of those Games felt like the Olympics to me, with grand opening ceremonies and various countries in attendance. After I became too old to attend AWG as an athlete, I moved on to attend two Canada Winter Games in 2007 and 2011. These Games were on a similar scale, maybe slightly bigger. This year I have made the next jump up to the World University Games, the second biggest Games in the world after the Olympics. Although my training this year has not been great and I have a few old injuries that have no end in sight, the possibility of attending an Olympics is still in the back of my mind. In light of the various Games that are out there, my opinion about high-level sport has developed over the years. From a young age, attending Arctic Winter Games at age 11, I always knew it had the ability to bring peoples and cultures together. Nelson Mandela put it nicely: “Sport has the power to change the world”. So far in Italy, this idea seems very clear to me. Last night was great, chatting and getting pictures with athletes from other countries and handing out Canadian flags to Italian kids in the grandstands. Maybe the small gift of a Canadian flag could leave a lasting impression on a youngster.
The three newly arrived Nipissing University athletes representing the small school overseas. (l to r: Jordan Cascagnette, Kajsa Heyes, me)

Some people say high level sport is a selfish endeavor for the wealthy. I would disagree. The ability for me to pursue ski racing at a high level for the last decade has been possible not because of individual wealth (in fact, I am usually extremely poor), but because of those who support me in my home community in the North. I am extremely grateful for the corporate sponsorships and sport grants that have allowed me to pursue my personal goals as well as my bigger goals of inspiring others to live a healthy, active lifestyle. Having my first taste of international competition last year at my first World Cup race gave me my first sense of the relationships built through sport. Imagine for a moment: here you have today’s athletic stars who are tomorrow’s leaders, forging international relationships across the world. At FISU, you have tomorrow’s great academics as well as future leaders forging slightly different international relationships. On top of this, you have Canadian athletes working as ambassadors to the host countries, putting their best foot forward to develop international kinship.

These are simply musings of my espresso-charged morning writing session, but worthy of thought. These musings and ideas seem at least worthy of a lifelong pursuit of sport, both to attempt to achieve my athletic potential while I am young but also to remain involved in sport with any future career I may choose.
Christian Zorzi and Giorgio Di Centa helped carry the FISU torch into the town square. Their image was projected on this cathedral wall. One of my favourite Olympic moments is still Giorgio receiving the 50 km gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games closing ceremonies, presented to him by his sister.

Today I got a chance to ski out on the Marcialonga trail that passes through the Val di Fiemme race trails. 

A stacked men's field heads out on the last lap of the 15 km skiathlon. (I skipped today's race to focus on Saturday's sprint race)

Enjoying a post-ski hot chocolate at the hotel bar.