Vanderhoof — For a decade, speed skating enthusiasts in Nechako Lakes have been part of creating one of the largest clubs in western Canada.
What started with five families has since grown to more than 70 skaters with athletes competing at provincial and national levels, Nicole Ebert, 47, one of the clubs founding members, said.
“At the beginning it was so different. To start with we had no mats, and when we did get mats we had no where to store them. The five-year-old kids were up at six in the morning because that was the only time we could get. [At that time] the adults, kids and babies were on the ice together but, gradually as people joined, [the club] grew. Then with support from Fort St. James and Prince George clubs we got coaching organized, among other things,” Ebert said.
The club has managed to grow so substantially in numbers and skill level that it was asked to host the BC Short Track Speed skating Championship in Vanderhoof this past March for the first time and, for first time in nearly a decade, the event was held in the north, Keith Gordon, Fort St. James long-track coach said.
“It’s gone from a startup club to a club with the most registered skaters in 10 years and I think that’s a testimony on the people who run it who obviously work hard and have shared values that resonate well with families who want their kids in the club. They now have a certified introduction-to-competition coach and thats the level of coaching to make yearly training plans,” Gordon said, adding that the Fort St. James club has been around since 1985 but the two clubs continue to work together. “We have open practises and Fort kids are always welcomed in Vanderhoof and of course we have Vanderhoof skaters up here sometimes.”
Three of the original families who founded the club still have kids skating including Alison Desmarais, 17, of Vanderhoof who skated on team BC at the Canada Winter Games (CWG) this past February.
Three kids from the club, Matthew Ebert,16, Connor Ebert,14, and Sarah McBride, 16 went to the provincial tournament in Prince George (the trial event before the CWG) and participated in the age-class championship. Sarah brought home a silver medal, Connor placed third in an event, and Matthew placed third overall in the country after receiving four medals.
“It’s been amazing to watch the growth of the club – both in the level of skating and the number of kids past and present who have been part of it. Our club also has an incredible group of volunteers which keeps things running smoothly. Coaches, organizers, equipment people and others are always there whenever the need arises. There’s also a great group of teenagers who continue to skate for exercise but aren’t interested in competing,” Sarah Ebert, 17, said, speed skate member.
Although speed skating season is over for the summer, Gordon said it’s still such a competitive sport.
“And with the level some of the kids are now at, many must do a lot of physical training in the offseason.”
Some skaters are now getting ready for dry-land skating while others chose biking or running to stay in shape but, Sarah Ebert feels the biggest focus of the club is to just have fun.
“In ten years, from a beginning club where all the kids are under seven, we’re just having kids old enough now to compete at higher levels. Our kids have done well at provincial and national levels but the big focus of our club is just to do your best, and skate for yourself. There are two philosophies in sports, and the one that often comes through is achievement and focuses on those few kids that will progress through to provincial and national levels. But the other 80 per cent, that’s not where their heading and maybe that’s not where they want to head. So it’s important we have a fun environment that fosters success in a social environment that keeps them active for life,” Ebert said.