Whether it be in the pool or on the slopes, Jeremy Ramshaw was groomed to race against the clock.
A native of Mississauga whose family were among the weekend warriors that would make the ski trek to Collingwood multiple times a winter, Ramshaw somehow found enough time to devote to his swimming career to secure an NCAA scholarship to the University of Connecticut.
These days, the 29 year-old with a masters in Environmental Sciences from Guelph University has returned to his love of skiing, taking on the head coaching duties with the Adanac Ski Club in his fourth season in Sudbury.
And as he and others look to rebuild a northern Ontario circuit that at one time was the envy of the province, Ramshaw finds himself drawing upon a past of his own that featured an environment replete with athletes who flourished on the alpine ski scene, both provincially and beyond.
“The number of kids creates a lot of competition on the Collingwood Ridge,” said Ramshaw. “There are six clubs, all on or near the Ridge. In my mind, other than the Quebec series, there is a lot more competition on the Ridge, just because of the numbers and the closeness of the clubs.”
A national champion in the 200m backstroke at the age of 17, Ramshaw juggled the demands of both passions through to grade 12, moving away from skiing once it became apparent that post-secondary swimming was a definite possibility. Ironically, this was not a case where one sport dovetails near perfectly into the other.
“I think that there are crossovers, obviously, but I do think that there are other sports that are more highly coupled,” suggested Ramshaw. “Cross-country (running or skiing) and swimming have far more in common that swimming and downhill skiing.”
As it were, it was work that would bring the gregarious multi-sport athlete up to Sudbury, or at least a family career move, with his partner accepting a position locally as an aquatic biologist. Given the approval to complete his masters from the comfort of the nickel city, Ramshaw would look to expand upon an introduction to ski coaching that he had enjoyed upon returning to Collingwood, working alongside his younger brother and others, all while keeping active.
“Part of the reason that I believe I can be a successful downhill ski coach is that I grew up racing, I was a reasonably successful racer,” he said. “When I came back from the States, I was training with FIS (Federation internationale de ski) racers. Roughly 60% of kids are visual learners. A majority of kids will watch their coach and to learn to ski. Some others will watch other kids in the group to learn to ski.”
As he started gaining a foothold with the local club - Ramshaw initially split his coaching duties between Sudbury and Collingwood, travelling south every weekend a few years back - the energetic ski mentor would spend more time honing his craft as a coach, understanding and defining the methods with which he could connect with his young athletes.
“I really am a fan of physically putting the skier in position, while they are at a standstill, when they are struggling,” Ramshaw explained. “Grabbing underneath their arm, creating support, telling them to put their hip in my hip, bringing it down, noting that this is the crunch. When I say engage the ski, this is what I mean.”
“When I say drop the hip, this is what I mean - using the physical cues with those athletes.”
Informed and engaged enough to also discuss the coaching variances required to deal with athletes who are either auditory learners or kinesthetic learners, Ramshaw has also adjusted nicely to an Adanac venue that is quite unlike most other ski hills these days, including the Collingwood region that he called home.
“Part of my program has always been mileage, the number of miles done on your skis,” he stated. “While it is a shorter run in Sudbury, you can get up the hill a lot more quickly. That said, the diversity of terrain is not there to help keep the skiers engaged for a long period of time.”
Where Adanac can boast a grand total of effectively what amounts to three separate runs, Alpine in Collingwood features three distinct areas of the mountain (South Side, North Side and the Steeps), with each of those groomed to include between eight to a dozen runs. Given the local limitations, Ramshaw and his coaching team have tapped into a few different options to help spice things up, at practice, for the kids.
“Unique, fun drills are a great way to challenge your athletes,” he said. “And You Tube is a great source of information. And then you have all of the other coaches. All of them can provide you with a different idea on how to approach your practice. And then you can drop in a new coach, have the U16 coach go over and coach the U12’s for a day.”
“He or she will bring a new perspective on skiing to that group.”
Though a resident of these parts for just a short time to date, Ramshaw has become well-acquainted with the history of alpine sports locally. He is also of the opinion that a return to those good old days is not all that far-fetched a notion. “I definitely think that it’s completely possible to revive that,” he said.
“The biggest component, at the end of the day, is that it’s about competition, about having a community of racers. Northern Ontario will never have the same numbers, but as long as you have enough kids in your age group that you can push each other, then that group will do well.”
“We’ve seen some amazing athletes recently and some amazing athletes coming up, but they don’t have enough competition in the north. If we can provide support to the communities and continue to grow the level of skiing, we will have a competitive circuit back in place, and that will lead to more northern Ontario skiers going down south and doing well at larger events.”