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.