By Martin Cleary
There was a time for Kanata’s Aidan Kirkham when cross-country skiing was the centre of his life.
He loved the nordic sport, knew he had solid skills and was highly motivated to go places on his skinny skis. He believed he had an interesting future in the sport.
His racing in 2019 and 2020 indicated he was taking the necessary giant steps forward to being noticed by the right people. After competing in his first FISU World Winter University Games in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and placing 20th in the men’s 30-kilometre mass-start skate race, he had a perfect competition in his fourth and final Ontario University Athletics nordic championships in 2020.
He won the men’s 10-kilometre free skate race and anchored Carleton University to the men’s relay title. Both results made a solid contribution to the Ravens capturing the men’s team banner. In his four-year Ravens racing career, he won three individual gold medals, one relay gold, three bronze medals and two team titles.
Exiting from the 2020 OUA championships, Kirkham, now 24, was ready to attack with confidence the Canadian cross-country skiing championships on a familiar and likeable course.
But the COVID-19 pandemic was the pin that popped that enthusiasm and the excitement for many of his peers. Nordiq Canada expectedly cancelled the national championships, its premier event.
The 2020-21 season also was wiped out as athletes were left to find new and interesting ways to train and motivate themselves to remain in the sport. Kirkham, once a Nakkertok Nordic skier, continued his love of skiing by serving as an assistant coach with his new club, Kanata Nordic.
When the 2021-22 season arrived and the skiers were returning to something resembling a racing season, Kirkham was on the sidelines with a broken right hand, the result of a fall during a rainy training run in Gatineau Park. But he still had his desire to coach and inspire younger skiers.
During the past three interrupted, cancelled and rebuilt seasons, Kirkham stayed in top physical condition, but he also was directing more time to his academic side. After securing a BSc degree in biology in 2020 from Carleton University, he earned his Masters degree from the University of Ottawa and is currently working on his PhD in epidemiology through Ottawa.
His outlook on cross-country skiing has also taken a dramatic turn. While skiing is not his No. 1 priority now, he has taken a new approach that continues to keep him excited about it. When he skis now, it’s a welcome break – a reward from his dedication to his academic studies.
He will earn a big reward starting this week by competing at his second FISU World Winter University Games, which open Thursday in Lake Placid, New York, and run through Jan. 22. Kirkham is one of 124 student/athletes representing Canada at the largest international event focusing on the world’s best university competitors in winter sports.
The National Capital Region will have 14 student-athletes participating in six sports as well as several coaches. (See full list below.)
“I’ve changed the way I approach skiing,” explained Kirkham, who qualified for Team Canada at the Candy Cane Cup and Eastern Canadian championships in December at Nakkertok Nordic. “I used to be very concerned about how I did and would follow a regimented training program, which can wear on you.”
He trained during the pandemic to maintain his fitness and enjoyment of the sport, but it wasn’t like it was before.
Kirkham had discovered coaching and put more emphasis on school. His athletic passion had become “a reward to get out and ski,” when he had the opportunity. But skiing was still a good thing.
“It has increased my motivation. This is fresh, when I got to train and do it with my friends. It’s like a reward,” he explained. “Coaching the kids reinvigorated me. They are fresh eyes for the sport.”
Kirkham’s new approach has brought balance to his life.
“Skiing will always be a part of my life, whether it’s at a high level or to stay fit,” he said. “I got to the point where it was great to ski, but I was pleasantly surprised that I could balance it (with academics and coaching) and make it part of my life instead of putting it on a pedestal, which is what I had done all my ski career.”
When Kirkham was unable to ski in 2021-22 because of his broken hand, he dedicated himself to his Masters studies and coaching at Kanata Nordic. He was rejuvenated all around.
“I would show up at every race and help with the waxing and testing skis,” he said. “The (youth) program has grown immensely to 50 to 60 kids. I poured my energy into it. I want them to have the best possible experience.”
As Kirkham approaches his final FISU World Winter University Games for athletes 18 to 25 years old, he also wants to have “the best possible experience.” He has three basic goals.
“I’d like to see what I can do, race hard and have fun,” he emphasized. “I have not set any expectations. I’ll do as good as I can for all the people who have helped me, for all the coaches, ski teammates and my parents (Patrick and Ardeth).
“Having these people along the way has helped a lot.”
Kirkham considers himself a distance skier and isn’t sure how many of the six men’s and mixed cross-country ski races he will compete in for Canada over 10 days.
2023 FISU WORLD WINTER UNIVERSITY GAMES
THURSDAY THROUGH JAN. 22
LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK
NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION ATHLETES
Katherine Mason, Carleton University, Ottawa
Bronwyn Williams, Carleton University, Cantley, PQ
Aidan Kirkham, University of Ottawa, Kanata
Robin Mason, University of Calgary, Ottawa
Kai Edmonds, goalkeeper, Toronto Metropolitan University, Ottawa
Liam Hawel, forward, St. Francis Xavier University, Arnprior/Kanata
Jacob Paquette, defenceman, Queen’s University, Ottawa
Aurélie Dubuc, goalkeeper, University of Ottawa, Trois-Rivières
Aidan Marler, St. Lawrence University, Carp, ON
Zoe Pekos, University of Ottawa, Richmond Hill, ON
Shilo Rousseau, University of Ottawa, Thessalon, ON
William Ng, University of Ottawa, Ottawa
Isabelle Caza, CEGEP de l’Outaouais, Chelsea, PQ
Alexandre Cadieux, snowboard cross, University of Ottawa, Ottawa
NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION COACHES
Greg Bowles, women’s hockey head coach, University of Ottawa women’s assistant coach and head scout, Ottawa
Patrick Grandmaître, men’s hockey assistant coach, University of Ottawa men’s head coach, Ottawa
Tim Hurley, biathlon coach, Chelsea Nordiq biathlon head coach, St. Albert, ON
Nadine Smith, chief therapist, Carleton University head athletic therapist, Ottawa
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