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Friday, May. 24, 2019
Ontario Cup nordic ski circuit returns to Naughton
by Randy Pascal

The lead-in, weather-wise, was anything but ideal for the folks involved with the Walden Cross Country Fitness Club, hosting their first set of Ontario Cup Nordic ski races in some four to five years.

Unseasonably mild temperatures had created some challenges this past week for organizers, albeit not insurmountable, especially for a group that was more than a little anxious to showcase some of the wonderful northern hospitality, well documented in these parts.

“I’m so proud of Walden for pulling this off,” noted Guelph Gryphon freshman Allison Caswell, a regular on the Naughton Trails during her time competing on the high school circuit as a member of the Lo-Ellen Park Knights powerhouse.

“My mom had been updating me all week on how much snow they were losing, how much rain they were getting. I knew all week it was pretty stressful, but I was impressed with the shape of the trails.”

Within the provincial nordic ski community, Ontario Cup events serve as a valuable gathering point, bringing together university delegations – Laurentian, Nipissing, Algoma, Guelph, Waterloo and the University of Toronto all fielded teams this weekend – along with club skiers of younger ages. The local competition even included a Para-nordic component as coach Patti Kitler took advantage of the opportunity to race her talented youngsters as well.

It’s been a busy first half year of post-secondary education for Caswell, adjusting academically – she opted to make the transfer over to the Human Kinetics program prior to starting 2018 – as well as wrapping her mind around a nordic ski environment that does not exactly mirror her Northern Ontario hometown.

“I’m spending a lot less time on snow, which is expected, going from Sudbury to Guelph,” she said. “This fall, we definitely did a lot more roller-skiing. Guelph is a lot more roller-ski friendly. In Sudbury, there’s Delki Dozzi (track) and then there’s nowhere else that’s really safe to roller-ski. There are a lot of country roads near Guelph that are quieter, so I’ve been able to go on longer roller ski training sessions, which is nice.”

Still, local athletes are more than happy to benefit from the traditional natural abundance of snow, though I am told they were trucking the stuff in for the finish area from local ski hills, given the meltdown last week. Thirteen year old Maggie Parks, a proud member of the Sudbury Nordic Racers, knows that this is not the norm for a sport that she has enjoyed, in these parts, since the age of five.

“My mom told me to go out and try it,” Parks recalled. “A lot of people quit, but I was one of the ones who stayed in the sport. When I was six, I could only classic ski, but I learned how to skate ski, I taught myself, and that kind of kept me in it.”

In fact, there were two days of races in Naughton this past weekend, with skiers tackling the classic events on Saturday and moving to the seemingly more favoured skate ski races on Sunday. “For classic, you have to go inside tracks and stuff, so your hands move differently,” noted Parks.

“Skate skiing is obviously a lot more like the skating motion,” – and, by all accounts, much easier and quicker to do. For her part, the grade eight student at Carl Nesbitt Public School picked up some valuable strategic knowledge as she prepares for the balance of the Ontario Cup season series.

“I liked the downhills, but I learned that I need to get out near the front,” she said. “I got stuck in the back. I was trying to go up a hill and somebody was in front of me, and I couldn’t get past them because there was no room.”

Like his teammate, Patrick Wiss (also 13) favours skate ski to classic. And like his teammate, his progress in the sport is certainly a function, to some extent, of perseverance. “I remember my first races that I was in, I didn’t place so well,” recalled the grade eight student at Ecole Macdonald-Cartier.

“But I never gave up. Recently, I’ve been getting better places and better places. Technically, I’m training a lot more every aspect that you can think of. I have a better glide, I go up faster, if I fall, I get up faster.” He’s also developed a pretty quick “step turnaround”, a deft move going into and coming out of corners that allows one to pass opponents with one swift lurch.

The technique allowed Wiss to make up ground after finding himself somewhat boxed in at the start. “At the beginning, I was with a couple of kids, but I felt it wasn’t fast enough for me, so I caught up with the group ahead of us, and then I tried to get further and further ahead of that.”

Now 19 years old and in his second year at Laurentian University (and his second year as a member of the L.U. nordic ski team), Sault Ste Marie native Matteo Reich has to find different means for improvement, boasting a background in the sport that began at the age of four and would see him compete, in his youth, under the banner of the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club.

“I think technically, everyone is always improving a bit,” said Reich. “The technique is always changing in cross-country skiing, you always see new things coming out. But, to be honest, it’s mostly from the increase in training, that’s where you see the improvement.”

Though he also trained with the Laurentian cross country running team during his first fall of studies in Sudbury, Reich migrated back, come the winter, to the sport that is truly part of the very fabric of his being. “My parents put me in at a young age and it kind of clicked with me, right away,” he said.

“I’m into the endurance sports, from mountain biking to cross country running. All of those endurance sports really transfer over.” And after all of these years, he still finds a way to strike a balance, all while pursuing his degree in Kinesiology at L.U.

“It’s all about the time management with school, the ability to come up with a schedule every week and planning your time effectively so that you can get in every workout,” said Reich. “If you don’t, you start missing workouts, it’s a mess.”

A mess indeed, kind of like the state of the Naughton Trails, midway through last week – and we’ll have none of that in these parts of the Ontario Cup circuit.

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