HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
When Nakkertok Nordic head coach Camille Cheskey was a young boy, he set a lofty goal one year as a Waterloo Region Nordic Ski Club member. His objective: ski 500 kilometres. His reward: a badge.
“One day, I thought I’d like to ski 50 kilometres. There was no reason other than it was a far distance. I went with a buddy and we did it,” Cheskey said in an interview. “I wanted that little patch. The motivating factor was huge.”
For the rest of that winter, Cheskey pushed and pushed and reached his goal of 500 kilometres to achieve that coveted prize. Today, he is a head coach and he’s thrilled his athletes and those in his cross-country community are replicating his example in Nakkertok’s latest project.
Well, about two decades after he earned his patch, Cheskey has reached into his past to bring that idea forward and inspire the region’s cross-country skiing community, which has lost the ability to enter races and is in need of some nordic motivation.
Cheskey and club officials decided last month to encourage skiers to participate in the Nakkertok Kilometre Board for December. Skiers formed teams, logged kilometres each time out and the top eight scores determine the team rankings.
Since the Gatineau region is in a red zone because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “in-person” events like cross-country ski races/tours aren’t possible. The 43rd Gatineau Loppet is still a possibility and registration has been delayed until Jan. 4.
The 55th, two-day Canadian Ski Marathon from Lachute to the Gatineau region has been cancelled for the first time and replaced with a virtual race. If the Gatineau Loppet is cancelled, it also will stage virtual races.
“We’re in the same situation. We’re on hold,” Cheskey said. “Our athletes have a bit of a challenge for the year ahead. There are no national and Ontario races on the calendar and the Quebec calendar is on hold until mid-January.”
As a way to keep competitive racers on a training schedule as well as motivated, and to encourage other skiers to stay active and fit, the Nakkertok Kilometre Board has proven to be a successful project so far.
In the first week, the 191 participants on a dozen active teams skied more than 5,000 kilometres. Skiers can log their kilometres anywhere, but most of the skiers have used the Nakkertok track, which has a mix of natural and artificial snow.
In the second week, the skiers significantly picked up the pace and had accumulated 17,260.1 kilometres as of Tuesday at noon. Each skier and team set goals of achieving a certain number of kilometres by the end of December.
“There’s no specific (overall kilometre) goal. We’re engaging the athletes in the community to push themselves because there are no races,” Cheskey said. “It was incredible to see (how it) took off in the first week.
“We collectively scratched our heads. December was approaching and we needed something. I worked with volunteer Sheila Kealey and she helped a ton to enact this, put it on spreadsheets,” added Cheskey, who could see this idea spread.
Kealey was a good resource. The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees nordic head coach staged a Canadian university push-up challenge this fall to help nordic skiers stay in shape using a virtual team-building project.
The 32-member Coaches team tops the Nakkertok Kilometre Board standings with 1,758.2 kilometres from its best eight skiers. Overall, Coaches has accumulated a board-best 3,026.7 kilometres. Its team goal is 4,215 kilometres.
ENRG (Elite Nakkertok Racing Group) is 2nd at 1,733.6 kilometres and 2,243.6 overall kilometres from 12 skiers. The Alumni group, one of the smallest teams at six skiers, is 3rd with 1,696.3 kilometres and has the best skier average at 282.7 km.
Four teams already have exceeded their total kilometre goal (team name, overall goal, total kilometres, top eight kilometres): U16, 1,350, 2242, 1,350; RR, 225, 706.3, 443.6; Parents, 125, 488.2, 407.3; and Mini RR, 75, 288.9, 254.8.
The top 3 individuals are, (name, team name, total goal, kilometres skied): Pierre Grall-Johnson, Alumni, 750, 597.4; Steven Paradine, Coaches, 1,000, 579; Sophie Tremblay, Alumni, 755, 438.3.
Ottawa’s Grall-Johnson, 21, is in his first season with the Canadian senior development team. He gained World Cup experience in 2019-20, and earned one gold and three bronze medals at the 2019 national junior championships.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.