Two weeks ago, Ontario Cup officials were forced to cancel scheduled nordic ski races in Naughton, victims of the well-below-average cold snap that folks in Sudbury have endured recently.
Thankfully, Mother Nature was much more co-operative as the elementary kids gathered last Wednesday at the same venue. Good thing too, as no less than 133 young athletes representing eight different schools were primed and ready to go, entering the event with a whole spectrum of different goals and motivations.
"My goal is to get in one of the top thirties, because it's my first race," noted nine year old Dylan Jackson of Walden Public School. "I don't really have a strategy. Just go out and have fun."
His first foray into the nordic ski circuit is something of a year-long plan for Jackson, with one half of his items already ticked off the list last fall. "I wanted to try and do both cross-country running and skiing, because I want to do more exercise," said Jackson. "I can be pretty lazy sometimes."
While there is still a great deal of technical improvement still ahead before winter comes to an end, Jackson and his teammates are starting to get a handle on navigating the undulating terrain that is maintained by Walden Cross Country.
"Here, you can go down big hills and little hills, and it's good practice for getting up hills too," explained Jackson. ""You put your legs, one leg up and one leg to the other side, and you make it like a pizza."
"Some people will try and just use their poles and push themselves up. People who are really good can run doing "pizza", but most of us just walk." As for the change in the weather over the course of just a few days, the well-spoken Walden youth was giving it a double thumbs up.
"This is a pretty good day, because the snow is not that bad," said Jackson. "It's fluffy, so then it's easier to pack it down. Sometimes when it's sticky, it's harder." A grade three student at R.L. Beattie Public School, Meghan Knight concurred with the assessment of her young counterpart, especially compared to some of the conditions she has endured in 2019.
"I didn't like it when I got too cold (earlier this month), like when I didn't have a buff," said Knight. "Today was hard, but it was pretty fun because it was snowing. I liked how it was just nice and cold, because I was hot. It was refreshing."
Knight comes from a family of skiers. "I was doing nordic skiing when I was three," she recalled. "My dad took me out, before I had lessons. And I've been doing races every year since I was young. My dad likes to take me to the same place I would go for lessons (Laurentian), with Morgan (her sister) in another little group."
With a little more experience on the trails than Jackson, Knight is open to utilizing her full treasure chest of skiing techniques. "When we're out there doing lessons, they teach you how to skate ski, but you don't have to here," she stated.
"Morgan knows how to skate ski, but I don't. I want my dad to teach me. Today, I tried to skate ski, but then I did classic, and sometimes, when people we're trying to get in front of me, I would just walk on my skis."
Twelve year old Ava Hodgins of Carl Nesbitt Public School can completely relate. On skis since the age of three or four, Hodgins decided to join the Sudbury Nordic Racers this winter, capitalizing on a complete obsession for the sport.
"I love skiing so much on my own," said Hodgins. "I really couldn't find any other sport like this - this is the best one I could think of. It's great for cardio-vascular health. And you can just do it any time you want. In the summer, you can roller-ski. It's an all-year sport."
Like Knight, Hodgins is just beginning to expand her technical horizons. "I've only been skate skiing for one year," she said. "I was just classic before that. My skate skiing technique has improved so much. My coaches have helped me so much."
"I've been learning how to offset, when you climb up hills, instead of herringbone. You put your poles at different angles and basically, you just glide up the hill. You can push with more force this way."
On this particular day, the kids are enjoying a "free technique" race. Still, the older competitors are not without a game plan. "We practiced the loop before the race," said Hodgins. "We usually do it once or twice, so we can see where we want to do our different techniques."
"In the last kilometer, I'm sprinting all the way to the finish. But generally, I just want to practice my technique today and do the best that I can."
Following are the top five finishers from each of the six races:Girls - Grades 3 and 4 (1.6 km race)
1st - Ava Haslam (Walden) - 10:40
2nd - Megan Pineau (Beattie) - 10:48
3rd - Ava Woods (Walden) - 10:56
4th - Alexis Nicholls (Beattie) - 11:02
5th - Sophie Gauld (Beattie) - 11:32
Boys - Grades 3 and 4 (1.6 km race)
1st - Chesley Godwin (Beattie) - 10:05
2nd - Eden Abols (Beattie) - 10:15
3rd - Grady Dale (Beattie) - 10:30
4th - Ethan Bewick (Beattie) - 10:35
5th - Linken Lalonde (Walden) - 11:22
Girls - Grades 5 and 6 (2 km race)
1st - Morgan Knight (Beattie) - 15:35
2nd - Monique Fitzmaurice (Beattie) - 16:02
3rd - Addison Benedict (Walden) - 16:15
4th - McKenna Mende (Walden) - 16:43
5th - Gracie Dale (Beattie) - 17:15
Boys - Grades 5 and 6 (2 km race)
1st - Jonah Gibson (Walden) - 12:29
2nd - Dawson Morris (Beattie) - 12:41
3rd - Greydon Digby (Walden) - 12:55
4th - Hector Loiselle (Beattie) - 13:39
5th - Caleb Walker (MacLeod) - 14:41
Girls - Grades 7 and 8 (3 km race)
1st - Finlay Cuza (Murray) - 13:47
2nd - Ava Hodgins (Nesbitt) - 15:03
3rd - Kendra Ley (Nesbitt) - 20:55
4th - Summer Pratt (Lively) - 21:04
5th - Jessie Doyle (Lively) - 22:08
Boys - Grades 7 and 8 (3 km race)
1st - Michael Butcher (Churchill) - 16:08
2nd - Marshal Spry (Lively) - 18:46
3rd - James Butcher (Churchill) - 19:59
4th - Cody Storms (Lively) - 22:24
5th - Wyatt Oshell (Murray) - 22:35