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Rauhanen recollections entrenched in Sudbury nordic ski lore
2022-01-25
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As Foligno is to hockey in Sudbury, Rauhanen is to nordic skiing.

Sure, maybe not quite as obvious to the current generation of sports fans nor those who limit their awareness of winter athletics only to the most predominant pastime of the season in these parts - but a pretty apt comparison, nonetheless.

And while Eric (62), a four-time Canadian biathlon champion and Ken (58), OUA gold medal winner and consistent provincial contender, were very accomplished athletes in their own right, they still humbly defer to the family patriarch.

Now 89 years old and still in the homestead he has long shared with his wife, Aira, Antero Rauhanen held the standard to which a young Devon Kershaw and so many others would aspire.

Born in Finland but immigrating to Canada in his mid-twenties, the future seven time national cross-country ski champion would follow the route that was paved by thousands who proudly lay claim to Suomi roots.

“He knew when he was coming here that there wasn’t going to be an issue of making contact with people,” Ken noted of his father, a young man who spoke not a word of English as he travelled overseas near Christmas 1956. “Finding people to help him or get along with - no problem; but nothing was really pre-arranged or anything like that.”

A very good all-around athlete, Antero Rauhanen would garner even more prominence in the country he now called home. “Compared to the best skiers in Finland at that time, he was not quite in that league,” said Ken.

That said, his father twice competed at the World Championships and would likely have represented Canada at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley had he met the requirements for Canadian citizenship at the time (he won the national title that year).

And to think, nordic skiing was not initially his sport of choice.

“He actually preferred running,” said Ken, a long-time local elementary school teacher. “You can imagine what the tracks were like at that time, but he ran the 1500 metres in under four minutes. You think about the shoes and the track and everything - this was outstanding.”

Third in line in a family of four children who were raised, quite naturally, in the south end, a short hike from Long Lake and such, Ken Rauhanen, and his siblings, for that matter, wasted little time inheriting their father’s love of being out on the trails on a crisp December morn in northern Ontario.

“Growing up, I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t on skis or wanting to ski or go skiing with my father,” he said. “When we were young, it would take a little while, but we would ski across St Charles Lake, across Middle Lake, across Crooked Lake, and that would take you to the Voima ski trails.”

And like most young children, it is a gradual process to garner some perspective of the lives and times of their parents, especially eras that precede the birth of the youngsters. Thankfully, for Glenn, Eric, Ken and Elaine Rauhanen, hints of the past were not all that hard to find.

“Right from the beginning, I knew that my father had been an extremely successful cross-country skier, but it’s not until you get a little bit older that you realize the concept of national championships,” said Ken. “That came a little bit later. In one of the rooms, there was a trophy cabinet - and not that it was a big display or anything, but it was to ignore it.”

“My father is very quiet, quite reserved and shy around people that he doesn’t know,” continued the younger Rauhanen. “Even with the kids, he didn’t talk about what he did - but we would end up asking questions.”

When the discussions were done, off the Rauhanen clan would go, skis and poles and bindings in hand. Ken would take to the competitive side earlier than the others, with Eric jumping aboard on a more serious level only after he had joined the armed forces and veered off towards the tangent activity that is the biathlon.

An outdoor enthusiast to be sure, Eric would compete with the Canadian biathlon team from 1983 to 1988, a mainstay on the World Cup circuit and attending World Championships along the way. A wonderful biography on the now long-time Alberta can be found, quite easily, on the Silver Fox Outfitters' website, a tribute to the many passions and most fascinating life that the second oldest Rauhanen has enjoyed.

For his part, Ken would attend Laurentian University, obtaining his B.A. in Geography all while capturing an individual OUA title during his post-secondary career and being awarded the prestigious Voyageur Award at the conclusion of the 1985-1986 season.

Through it all, the advice of his father stuck firmly in his mind.

“There is an expression in Finnish that he used, that if you translated it into English, it would be something like: “if you want to succeed as a skier, your shirt has to always be wet with sweat” - something along those lines,” said Ken. “I can’t really translate it literally, but it’s along that basic idea.”

“If you want to be successful, it’s behind a lot of hard work.”

The crossing of family paths, often intertwined with cross-country skiing, would define some of the favourite memories for these proud Finlanders. After working alongside his father in the carpentry trade for a while, post university graduation, Ken eventually enrolled in the armed forces, a time which featured a wonderful competition just the other side of the Canadian border, south of Montreal.

“The highlight for me was skiing with Eric at the CISM (Conseil international du sport militaire) - we competed in Vermont,” said Ken. “There were athletes there who were Olympic medal winners.”

A few years later, at the urging of his older brother Glenn, who had tackled the profession, Ken pursued a career in teaching, one which allowed him to spend a great many years back home in Sudbury. Hard to believe that family and skiing would once again connect.

Making his comeback on the masters ski circuit, Antero Rauhanen had travelled full circle.

“That was enjoyable for me, because instead of him bringing me to races, I went with him,” said Ken. “I was his waxing technician, helping him out. That’s a great memory for me.”

And maybe, just maybe, they would be fortunate enough to encounter, in their travels, a competitor who would recognize the man who dominated these races, one generation earlier.

“By the time I was six or seven, when I was speaking with other Finnish men, it was “this is “A-a-a-n-terro’s son”,” Ken reminisced. “I almost don’t remember a time when I wasn’t known as Antero’s son. Around here, growing up, that’s who I was.”

He was, after all, a Rauhanen - and in Sudbury nordic ski circles, that is pretty darn special.

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