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Bob Hanson: Former Mr Fit still keeping fit in the great outdoors
2023-03-13
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It’s been more than a handful of years now since Bob Hanson retired from his career as pretty much a life-long surveyor, but his raison d’être has not changed a whole lot:

“I spent my whole working life outside – and when I wasn’t working outside, I was played outside.”

Now 73 years old and still active on local trails, lakes and such, the native of South River was a typically active youth, enjoying all that nature had to offer along with his three siblings in the wonderland that is that region just south of North Bay.

“My youngest sister was a figure skater and my brother and I lived for hockey,” Hanson recalled.

“You learned to play hockey on ponds and lakes and outdoor rinks. In the summers, my brother and I spent a lot of time in the woods, just having fun. Our parents didn’t always know where we were – and I don’t think they were all that concerned.”

With his father’s work bringing the family to Sudbury, Hanson competed as a teen with the Sudbury High Wolves in sports like hockey and football, long before the full gamut of endless options that exist today were event conceived.

After a short stint of college in Barrie and work out west, the man who would eventually secure the title of Mr Fit Sudbury on two separate occasions would make his way back to Toronto and his future wife, the late Jean Hanson – educator extraordinaire.

Though Jean was born and raised in Toronto, the young couple quickly developed a love for all that getting away from the city had to offer. “We got into canoeing seriously in 1973,” said Hanson. “I bought a cedar and canvas canoe and we would do canoe trips – one nice long one through Algonquin Park.”

By 1976, the Hansons had moved to Sudbury, Jean creating her legacy in education as the young couple settled into the setting that remains Bob’s home to this day – a very unique former cottage which he redesigned to incorporate very much a feel of the north, with the brick fireplace burning nicely as we enjoyed our trip down memory lane.

With the welcomed addition of daughter Jessica (now Lonsdale) and son Russell (who calls B.C. home these days), Bob began to morph from mere recreationalist to a more competitive athlete.

“Initially, it started as recreational skiing on groomed trails, but in the early eighties, I got into the competitive side of things as a masters cross-country ski racer,” said Hanson. Along with a few others in a similar age bracket – Shirley Pommier, Ken Sidney and such – the ultra-fit young adult would represent Northland Nordic (a spin-off of the Northland Athletic Club group that prospered under coach Terry McKinty).

“I was definitely a middle of the pack skier, but the 1987 Canadian Masters Championships in Canmore – that was a pretty special time,” he added, noting the wonder of racing at the venue that would also play host to the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Like so many Sudburians who give so freely of their time, Hanson was a very busy man for the next few decades. As an athlete, he would benefit from the innate diversification that he possessed. “I actually never won anything, except for the Sudbury Fitness Challenge. I could do well in every event, even though I never won an individual event.”

“And if you did every event, you got bonus points.”

Ironically, for as much as he was a SFC mainstay for years to come, Hanson struggled with an interesting dichotomy come race day. “I was competitive but I found competition stressful,” he said with a smile. “Ski racing is hard; you have to really push yourself.”

“But I can remember being out there, skiing for hours and you get into a rhythm and it’s such a pleasing physical motion. You’re so into it.”

In 1988, Hanson was instrumental in launching the Laurentian Nordic Ski Club, creating a jackrabbits program for children ages seven to twelve and growing to the point of attracting Lockerby Composite graduate and life-long adventurer Dave Battison as the first professional coach for the group.

In 2002, having progressed nicely from being a self-taught skier to earning his Level 3 status as a nordic coach, Hanson would join forces with Mary Waddell, tackling the dynasty that was the Laurentian Voyageurs nordic ski team. Keep in mind that the L.U. teams (be it men or women) had secured no less than 16 OUA championship banners between 1978 and 2001.

For more than a dozen years, Hanson continued to work with the university athletes, finally stepping aside in 2014. Not that his love of coaching has left him. On the day that we met, he had just come from teaching a pair of outdoors types how to skate ski properly.

“I still have two canoes, two kayaks and a stand-up paddleboard,” he outlined at one point. “I am not fit enough to do a lot of the things that I want to do – but just being involved makes me happy – and my involvement in sport has rubbed off on my kids.”

Of course, the kids, and the grandkids, more often than not, can be found outdoors – and Bob Hanson would not have it any other way.

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