A wide variety of cross-country skiers from a wide variety of regions of the province gathered at the Walden Trails in Naughton this weekend, site of the Ontario Cup #3 races.
Heck, even the local contingent covered the entire length of the competitive spectrum of nordic skiing in terms of the entries into a vast array of events.
Coaches Patti Kitler (inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame this past fall) and Perry Sakki were on hand with their para-nordic athletes, a group which welcomed Ivory Coast native Konan (Koko) Blaise to their fold this year, following his arrival in Sudbury in 2020.
A graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition and health science program, the 45 year-old survivor of polio represented his homeland at the 2006 World Powerlifting Championships in South Korea, leaving Koko (as he prefers to be known in honour of his father and grandfather) with a more than adequate base of upper body strength.
That said, there is not a whole lot of para-nordic training to be had either in the Cote d’Ivoire or the heartlands of the United States – presenting both he and his coach with plenty to work on as he jumped into this latest adventure.
“The tricky part is to find the right seat,” said Koko. “It took a long time but now, I just try and adapt myself to the seat that I have. Patti and I, we continue to figure out how to get a better seat to be able to use a higher percentage of my strength.”
Truth be told, this is merely a starting point. His race on Saturday would be his first – ever – creating an interesting mix of emotions and mindset for a man who has experienced a great deal over the course of four decades or so.
“I am not feeling really nervous,” Koko suggested as we chatted about 30 minutes prior to race time. “I kind of try and think of how to use the technique that I am learning with Patti – but I am comfortable with competition. I calm myself, free my mind, try not to be stressed and focus on technique.”
That’s a lot to remember, even for a veteran of international meets. For best friends and R.L. Beattie classmates Roslyn Godwin and Meehan Lonsdale, their minds are likely still far more liberated. This is, after all, still primarily about fun.
“Today was good; it was kind of short,” said Godwin, not long after competing in the 1.2 km 10 and under race and member of the Laurentian Nordic club team. “This is not much different than Laurentian.”
A fan of the skate ski style of racing simply because it’s faster, Godwin noted that there is a need for caution however when tackling the downhill parts of the trail. “When you go downhill, you can’t really skate ski,” she said. “If you skate ski, you might fall. Going down hills, you have to keep your skis straight.”
Of course, it will come as little surprise that the young tandem of Godwin and Lonsdale would finish their race just ten seconds apart, given their somewhat inseparable nature. “We knew each other when we were two; our moms are friends,” said the former. “Well, we didn’t really know each other – but we were together.”
And both have spent copious amounts of time on the snow.
“My mom used to take me out in a chariot and just tow me around,” said Lonsdale. “But actually skiing is better; I like actually doing it instead of just getting towed.”
Having now celebrated her ninth birthday, the elder of two children in the family is just starting to get a solid grasp of the technical aspects of the sport, the priority right now apparently being the understanding of good gliding.
“You have to have steady balance,” said Lonsdale. “You have to have all of your weight on the skis. That way, it’s not as hard on your legs. You kind of have to get the glide for everything else to be easier.”
Maddy Tremblay would surely giggle at this discussion.
A 17 year-old senior at Collège Notre-Dame, the proud member of Walden Cross-Country is also the product of a nordic centric family, her older sister currently representing Canada in the sport at the FISU Games and both remaining siblings in action locally at the O-Cup races.
With the bulk of her youth spent in the Ottawa region, Tremblay is thankful for the support and conditions under which she and some 300 competitors (roughly 250 or so from out of town) tested their mettle on the Walden Trails this weekend.
“The snow wasn’t too sticky, so that was good,” she explained. “It was a little dry (on Saturday), so going up the hills was a little tougher than it would normally be, but my skis were really fast. Our waxers are really good in Walden. They do a pretty good job, no matter what.”
By this point, Tremblay has become somewhat more accustomed to her current primary training venue, which contrasts slightly with the cross-country skiing she was weaned upon. “It’s different,” she stated. “There’s a hill right away, so that gets you right off the start a little bit. But racing is racing so no matter where you are, it’s the same thing.”
“But it’s fun too, because I am so used to it,” Tremblay added. “As we go up the hill, I am thinking to myself that I’ve done this hundreds of times already. I can do it again.”
In terms of notable performances, following is a breakdown of local first place finishers as well as podium finishes:Gold medal placement:
Callum Wiss – U16 Male – Walden XC – 5 km free
Sara MacIlraith – Masters Women – 7.2 km free / 10 km Classic Pursuit
Margot Wood (L.U.) – U20 Female – 7.2 km free / 10 km Classic Pursuit
Logan Lariviere – PN – Kivi-Nordic - 5 km free standing / 7.2 km Classic Pursuit
Tanya Quesnel – PN – Kivi-Nordic – 3 km free sitting / 3 km Classic Pursuit
Audreanne Soenens – PN – Kivi-Nordic – 3 km free standing / 3 km Classic Pursuit
Podium Placements (silver & bronze):
Julian Luoma – U14 Male – Laurentian Nordic – 5 km Classic Pursuit – silver
Cilvy Dupras – PN – Kivi-Nordic – 3 km free standing – silver; 3 km Classic Pursuit – silver
Konan (Koko) Blaise – PN – Kivi-Nordic – 3 km free sitting - silver
Kaeden Ward – U18 Male – Walden XC – 5 km free - silver
Konrad Wiltmann – Masters Men – Walden XC – 7.2 km free - silver
Callum Wiss – U16 Male – Walden XC – 7.2 km Classic Pursuit - bronze
Kaisa Asfeldt (L.U.) – U20 Female – 10 km Classic Pursuit – bronze
Augustin Marks de Chabris (L.U.) – Senior Men – 7.2 km free – bronze
Finlay Gauld – U10 Male – Laurentian Nordic – 1.2 km free - bronze
The picture that accompanies this story was generously provided by Jess McShane Photography - anyone looking to view some of the several dozen of
photos that we taken on the weekend can view that gallery at "www.waldenocup.jessmcshane.ca"
Prints and high resolution images are available for purchase