Through four years together at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, Max Mahaffy and Kendyn Mashinter could frequently be found, side by side, stride for stride. In the fall, this might involve cross-country treks on the running trails. By December, the dynamic duo would swap out their cleats for their nordic skis.
Last September, they would veer off in separate directions, with Mahaffy studying first year Biochemistry at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay while Mashinter took one extra year to sort out his path.
Now, thanks to the National Team Development Centre, the talented former Knights will reunite this summer in Thunder Bay, as both local teenagers have been named as part of the eight person 2021-2022 NTDC squad.
Returning for his second year with the crew, Mahaffy can well imagine the excitement his long-time friend is feeling. “We lost a bit of motivation with not being able to finish off the (2020) racing season,” said the 18 year-old former AAA hockey talent. “But not long after, I got accepted on this team, and that was a motivation booster.”
Though Mashinter received a similar offering last spring, the timing just wasn’t right in terms of making the kind of commitment that is required when you are training with teammates who will race against some of the very best nordic skiers in the world.
“I didn’t feel that I was ready; I was a different athlete back then,” said Mashinter. “I am a runner and a skier, competitive at both sports, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up running. I wanted to give it one last kick at the can. It was a year to figure myself out, both in terms of school and sports.”
This latest news, which was announced on social media last week, is a testament to the ability of both members of the Walden Nordic race team to continue their growth in a season of unparalleled challenges.
“We just kept finding out that one event after another was not happening and that was pretty discouraging,” said Mahaffy, who will undoubtedly provide plenty of very helpful advice to his new teammate, given his extra year of experience with NTDC.
“We talked a lot within the team about how we should approach it to still get the best out of a season where we weren’t going to be able to race. We decided to approach it as an opportunity to get better. It’s a full season of training and I think we definitely wanted to take advantage of that. We put in many more hours of training than we would normally be able to put in when we are racing.”
Meanwhile, back in Sudbury, Mashinter remained part of an enthusiastic and highly engaged group of skiers, both at Lo-Ellen as well as in his club setting. While more difficult to measure, given the circumstances, the soon-to-be Lakehead Kinesiology major is firm in his conviction that notable progress has been made in 2020-2021.
“It’s unfortunate to not test myself this year, because I know that I’ve made massive improvements,” said Mashinter. “I’ve definitely improved technically. I see videos of me skiing from last year and I’m overall a lot smoother, more efficient - and I’ve gotten stronger.”
Now he feels ready to take the next step.
“I’m excited to be part of this really competitive team,” said Mashinter. “I’ll be training with some of the best skiers in Canada, athletes who have competed in Europe. You can’t ask for any better.”
No need to convince Mahaffy any further.
“I definitely feel like I am a better nordic skier now than I was a year ago,” he said. “It’s not even just my fitness and how fast I can ski. But you look at how much I’ve learned in the past year, skiing and training with such experienced athletes, asking them questions, seeing how they ski.”
While both young men understand that overall fitness is at the very core of any success they might encounter, they also agree that the differentiator is something that the NTDC can clearly provide.
“With a new training environment and being exposed to different perspectives in skiing, I think that technique will be a major focus for the first couple of months,” said Mashinter.
“It’s so important at the highest level to have perfect technique,” Mahaffy agreed. “We have a roller ski treadmill here that we can use so that the coach can be beside you all the time, providing feedback.”
Mahaffy and Mashinter are in complete lock-step, once again, just as it has always been - whether at LOE or NTDC.