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A drive for nordic skiing, through training, not races
2022-03-12
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Sometimes the best results come from not focusing on the best results at all.

At least that’s the mantra at the root of the success that Laurentian Voyageurs’ nordic skier and OUA all-star Maddie Norman enjoyed at the provincial championships two weekends ago in Sudbury.

Finishing in 8th and 9th place on back to back days in the 10.5 km freestyle circuit, the Ottawa native who raced at one time with Team Ontario not all that long ago managed to slide into the seventh overall aggregate placement, cracking the OUA all-star team in the process.

“As much as I love competition, I like that Laurentian offers a bit more of a laid back approach in some ways,” said the 19 year-old second year Earth Sciences student. “I can find competition sometimes to be a bit stressful. It’s nice to have a team that allows you to train and perform well but also doesn’t put a ton of pressure on their athletes.”

Truth is that Norman has skied for the love of skiing, just as her parents had before her, for as long as she can remember. “My parents are both casual nordic skiers and I started taking lessons when I was four,” she said. “I started racing with the Nakkertok program when I was nine years old.”

Though she also dabbled in rowing and whitewater kayaking, it was her winter sport on the trails in and around the nation’s capital that most appealed to her. “There’s so much to love about nordic skiing,” said Norman. “It’s a sport that offers an opportunity to be outside, all of the time, which is fantastic.”

“It’s also allowed us to cope with Covid a little bit better, I suppose.”

With almost two full years between competitive events, Norman was immersed in a setting that played nicely into her preference of not micro-managing the results-based element of race day. “It almost felt like a blank slate again,” she said, thinking back to the week leading into the OUA Championships.

“After two years of really being untested against all of my former teammates, I really had no idea how I was going to measure up. There’s maybe a little bit of stress in that, but also a freedom to just go out there and see how I place. It was just a matter of going out there and skiing as well as I could.”

“I was pretty happy to see that I hadn’t really lost any ground since my last race.”

Norman, who topped the results from a Laurentian standpoint, posted times of 35:47 and 35:24, finishing almost exactly two minutes behind Lo-Ellen Park graduate and Lakehead University NOSM student-athlete Alannah MacLean.

In a sense, a global pandemic might have been just what the doctor ordered for the eldest of three children in the family. “I think one of the big things is that for me, it’s always been more about the training than the racing,” said Norman. “That’s one of the things that allowed me to keep getting out there every day.”

“I just love the training aspect of it. Not having races was not really a big game changer for me, in a lot of ways.”

There was, however, an adjustment that would come with the circuits that she covers during her workouts in making the move from Ottawa to northern Ontario. “There are a lot of places to ski in Sudbury, which is fantastic – but a lot of the trail systems are a bit shorter,” she noted. “The actual trails on campus at Laurentian are actually quite similar to Nakkertok – and it’s great having the trails on campus.”

“But there’s not really anywhere that matches the trails at Gatineau Park,” she added. “My family and I did the virtual Canadian Ski Marathon last year by parking at one end of Gatineau Park and skiing to the other, which is about a 50 kilometre trail.”

For as much as Maddie Norman is a very talented nordic skier, one senses that a Sunday afternoon jaunt that runs a couple of hours in length is more of her thing. “There’s many things I love about racing, but the actual competition aspect has never been a big draw for me,” she said.

“I knew that when I came to Laurentian, I wasn’t necessarily setting my sights on continuing to progress towards national teams and such.”

Still, OUA all-star status is pretty darn rewarding, both for Norman as well as the Voyageurs coaches and teammates who support her every stride of the way.

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