“We’re so lucky as nordic skiers that we can go outside and enjoy the fresh air and do our sport.”
Lucky, perhaps - but also quite talented.
While it was sisters Kalila and Chandyn Bachiu (the former is responsible for the quote above) and Eran Bursey who joined me for this particular look at their high-school nordic ski team, the fact remains that the Lo-Ellen Park Knights have been loaded with talent for the past several years.
OFSAA banners had become commonplace, prior to the championship-shelved season that was 2020-2021. Many are those who are graduates of LOE and just itching to make their mark, once again, in post-secondary races across the province.
While some have enjoyed at least some exposure to the cross-country ski trails prior to entering grade nine, the depth of the Knights’ roster illustrates all too well just how many young teens have been transformed from an athletic foundation to a pure nordic skier, in the truest sense of the word.
“There’s a really good system that we have,” said Bursey. “Basically, in November, before there is even snow, we would be doing third floor workouts, mostly strength-based, and a bit of running. That’s when you get to meet everyone. As a grade nine, it’s a little scary, but as you get to know them, you realize just how supportive, how inclusive they are.”
“And we have the ski school, where everyone is split into groups of equal speed,” added Bursey. “It’s not like you’re just thrown into the deep end; there is more of a gradual start to it.”
The mastermind behind it all is one Colin Ward, head coach of this crew as well as the Lo-Ellen track and field and cross-country running juggernauts. While he receives plenty of support year-round, there is no denying that the likes of Neil Phipps, Sara MacIlraith and so many others get particularly revved up as the white stuff begins to hit the ground.
“He (Ward) is so amazing; I don’t know how he does it,” said Kalila. “I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did without him, and without the other coaches that are helping him out: the volunteers and the teachers that are volunteering for a lot of the workouts. We are so lucky to have them as our coaches.”
There is a methodology that pays dividends, and not just with this trio that gathered to chat about the Knights’ nordic success. “The grade nines, they want to be part of the team,” noted Chandyn.
“They train hard under Mr Ward’s care. I don’t know how he does it, but the grade nines become really good, really fast, especially in skiing. And when you have a hockey background, it’s kind of the same motion, but Mr Ward guides their technique and makes it more refined.”
Like most who enter the program, this troika has intermixed their nordic ski training with multi-sport involvement, with each activity fighting for priority status at different times, depending upon the athlete in question.
“For me, there was definitely a big turning point,” said Bursey. “For grade nine and the first half of grade ten, nordic was mostly the off-season for cross-country and track, so mostly for fun. But we had all of these really fast skiers on our team and Mr Ward pointed out the potential that we had, enough to possibly win OFSAA.”
“That’s when I really took it a lot more seriously, focusing on training plans and specific ski training and not just using it for cross-training for running.”
As for the Bachiu siblings, there are both commonalities and discrepancies in this area. “I think our nordic training paths are pretty similar, but we differed with our cross-country training,” noted Chandyn. “Kalila is pretty crazy with that, but during track season, I barely do any distance running because I am a jumper during that season.”
“During the winter, we’re training buddies, very much on the same pace on the trails.”
Good thing too - training buddies became a bit of a scarcity given the physical distancing requirements that came part and parcel of the unwelcomed package that was COVID-19.
“It was tough, just going from the massive group that we had,” said Bursey. “We went from going out together for practices at LU, with 20-30 people all at once and then suddenly, you’re in groups of four and five. And there were really no races to look forward to, other than time trials.”
“It was really just taking the season and bettering yourself,” he added. “You couldn’t compete against anyone else, so it was all about being the best skier that you can be. That was hard to grasp at first, but during the season, you get over the fact that there is no OFSAA championship to motivate you and you find a way to push yourself as far as you can go.”
“You have to detach yourself from results,” said Kalila, echoing the sentiment. “For me, it became about working on technique and focusing on what I can do during the season. I would go out for lots of long skis and really enjoy myself, enjoying nature and being really grateful, because a lot of sports weren’t able to play at this time.”
There is little doubt that this is an exciting time for nordic skiing, in general, with a large influx of both newcomers to the sport noted this past winter, as well as those making a return after the absence of a handful of years or more.
The Lo-Ellen trio were more than happy to share some thoughts that might be of value to nordic newbies. “I would suggest starting with classic,” said Chandyn, alluding to the more traditional of the cross-country skiing styles (skating style being the other). “It takes a little less effort and it’s easier to learn, technique-wise.”
“But it’s not just one technique throughout the entire trail,” suggested Kalila. “You have to adjust, according to the terrain. Going up a hill, you transition to a technique that is called “off-setting”. You lean your body a little towards one side and that helps you get up the hill.”
While all three would like to compete in some form of varsity sport at the university level, very little has been cast in stone. Longer term, there is a little more clarity.
“Even if I can’t do it at a varsity level, I definitely want to continue doing nordic ski during the winters,” said Chandyn. “It’s such a great way to stay active during the winters, when most people are inside.”
Well, some people might be inside. Just not the students of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School.