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A Community of Caring and an Event that Brings Joy

This past weekend, I remembered my introduction to the caring community of cross-country skiing many years ago in Southern Ontario. Our family had joined a small family-oriented ski club in Waterloo. Early one wintery Saturday morning, with much anticipation about our new adventure, our small team drove to Orangeville for our first club ski race. Over the past 27 years, we have spent many weekends travelling to ski races. Many skiing venues have become familiar, and we have met many committed and passionate people. Easily, race organizers and event volunteers are among the most passionate.

One of those passionate volunteers is Frederic Forge from Skinouk. Fred provided data on his clubs’ popular annual ski race in Gatineau. The January 2023 race was the 29th edition of Coupe Skinouk. There were 485 registrants for the racers, an increase of more than 20% over pre-pandemic participants. One category Fred identified as having an increase is the University racers (The formation of a ski club at the University of Ottawa with Sheila Kealey coaching has been a major part of this development.); however, the growth is across all ages. “I think we are just seeing the effect of the growing popularity of the sport - outdoor in a post-pandemic world, good results from some local skiers on the world stage, etc., university programs that are developing and keeping athletes longer in the sport,” is Fred’s analysis.

photo: Sheila Kealey (bottom right) with some of her U of Ottawa Ski Team at Skinouk 2023

One of these skiers who has benefited from the growing interest in cross-country skiing in Gatineau-Ottawa is Éric Lavigne. Éric is a research scientist and epidemiologist at Health Canada. His path to becoming a cross-country ski racer was unique. His early sports experiences were in hockey and football. He competed in track as a student at Laval and has a 400m PB of 49:05! Some of that speed was displayed in the finish sprint of the pursuit race when he overtook his training partner, Ed, to take the win. (Note: Ed is one of the top racers coming out of that University of Ottawa program!)

More On Éric and the making of a Masters ski racer

“I mainly run in the summertime and cross-country ski in the winter. I also roller ski in the summertime to get ready for the winter. I started doing endurance running at around 26 years of age. I started out cross-country skiing at around 28 years of age and got into some races in my early 30s. I have been cross-country skiing for about ten years now (I am 38).”

Looking back to that first ski race I went to as a parent and a coach in Orangeville 27 years ago; I recall the community of skiers of all ages gathering on a snowy January morning to speed through the forest. In the masters’ group was a Math professor from the University of Waterloo. Like Éric, he had come to ski training and racing as an adult. Finding like-minded people in your community to join for daily training is important; however, gathering at a club event with multiple aged competitors to celebrate the joy of skiing is only possible due to the care and passion of many volunteers. Thank you for organizing the party for us!!

Mono-Nordic long-time club and Race Organizers: Al White and Don Ellis

Last word to Fred: I asked Fred, What continues to give you joy as an event organizer?

“Going back to last Sunday’s race, there was one moment when I saw my son focused on his start while my other son was talking to his athletes and my wife and I were doing our tasks. It felt very special and gave me joy.”

Kevin Shields

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