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Friday, May. 24, 2019
Mary Waddell and all things nordic
by Randy Pascal

Through her many years of involvement with nordic skiing, there isn’t a whole lot that Sudbury native Mary Waddell hasn’t done. Recently, the 68 year old bundle of energy was one of a small handful of folks from these parts who travelled to Almaty (Kazakhstan), site of the 2017 FISU Winter Universiade.

In fact, this marked the sixth such competition that the long-time educator has attended, dating back to her first trip to Italy in 2003. Subsequent visits would include a second journey to Italy (2007), China (2009), Turkey (2011) and Italy again (2013), along with her most recent adventure.

Even when she is ready to pass the torch, Waddell is pulled back into the fray. “The first time, in 2003, I was coaching Laurentian and we had three of our university students make the Games team,” she said. “I went as an assistant coach.”

“In 2007, they needed a new team leader, so I applied and got it. This time, I figured it was time to retire, so another person took it over as team leader – but then she made me go to help her out,” Waddell suggested with a laugh. “She was fine, but I went to help out with lots of little things, especially in the planning stages.”

It’s safe to say that her invaluable experience in the sport has been duly noted. The current president of the Walden Cross-Country Fitness Club and organizer of multiple races on that site, Waddell has morphed her way throughout much of the world of nordic skiing.

“I started to coach at the university, did it for about four to five years, and then I ended up going out to the Yukon and doing programming (for young elementary students),” she said. “Now what I am really big into is teaching all of the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) courses all around Northern Ontario, but also in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.”

Actually, that is only part of the amazing puzzle that is Mary Waddell. She is also a mainstay as an official at World Cup events in Canmore (Alberta), providing administrators of those events with a wonderfully flexible volunteer.

“I can do most things, but I’m not into timing,” she said. “I ended up mostly in “course”, which I like, because you’re outside, you’re running around. Working the World Cups in Canmore is a lot of fun. The gang we work with, they’re too funny.”

“We work really hard, but it’s a beautiful place and I have wonderful friends out there now. I think I’m as happy as I can get from an officiating end.” The wide-ranging scope of her knowledge of the sport also provides Waddell with great insight, including some thoughts on the current state of nordic ski.

“If you remember back, there was a time when everybody went out and bought cross country skis, and they all sat in the back of the garage,” she recalled. “Now, with no wax skis, you can send anybody out. I think it’s coming back, a bit. And snowshoeing is catching on, so maybe it’s all part of that scene.”

If there are traditionalists within the realm of cross country skiing, Waddell is likely not to be counted among them, open to the variations and initiatives that have been undertaken to ensure the sport captures a new audience with every passing year.

“It used to be that when you did a 50 km race, the guys would start and he would ski off into the bush and he would come back two hours later,” she said. “Somebody would call from the top of the hill that “so and so was in first place”, and that was the first you would know about it. They (nordic ski officials) knew that was a problem, so they changed it.”

“Now, it’s all loops coming around a stadium. And then they added in the team sprints, and that was a big event for TV. For the first time, at nationals in Canmore this year, the team sprints will have jumps and drop-offs, slightly “ski-crossy” things,” said Waddell.

And though Italy has remained as her favourite of the Universiade host countries, at least partly due to the manner in which the Italians were able to merge her sport into the small town scenic settings that dot "La Bel Paesa”, Waddell gives credit to the folks in Almaty, a city of just under two million in population.

“These guys were very good,” she said. “They have a fantastic facility, two huge stadiums, side by side, for biathlon and cross country, with stands, underground concrete bunkers, so you can pop up at the start and finish.”

“The village we were in was unbelievable,” Waddell continued. “Twelve high rises with twelve floors each. They built those in the hopes of getting the Olympics. Opening and Closing ceremonies were something to behold.”

“There were horses in the arena, and there’s dancing and singing and fireworks. They put a lot of money into it.” Now back at home, Waddell has hardly rested at all, eyeing the next wonderful adventure in which she will partake.

“I’m going to be 69 soon,” she noted early in the conversation. “I’m already looking forward to some “stuff” I want to do in my 70th year.”

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