By Mark Colley
They met in Ottawa, then all headed west. Now, after 10 years of friendship, they’ll go east to the Canada Winter Games.
Long-track speed skaters Rachel Mallard, Daria Vogt and Brielle Durham will compete with Team Ontario at the Feb. 18-Mar. 5 Games in Prince Edward Island. The trio seems to do everything together and these Games are no exception.
Currently, the three athletes are in their first year at the University of Calgary while also training at the Olympic Oval in the city as part of the Elite Athlete Pathway program.
“We grew up in the sport together,” noted Mallard, who is studying neuroscience. “We’ve been through this whole journey together … They’re some of my best friends.”
Though they’ve got different home clubs – Durham and Vogt are Gloucester Concordes, while Mallard is an Ottawa Pacer – they’ve been training together since they were eight (the Brewer Park oval is the main meeting point for long-track speed skaters in Ottawa, and Ontario).
Their efforts will culminate at the Canada Winter Games, when they compete together in the team pursuit race.
“Being super close with them, I feel like that has a positive impact on our team,” Vogt highlighted.
“There’s just a sort of trust between the three of us and just being able to skate with them for so long, I feel very comfortable skating behind Rachel or Brielle.”
Both Vogt and Mallard have a family connection to the sport. Vogt started skating when she was two, then followed her two older brothers into speed skating when she was six.
“Being the youngest sibling, I felt kind of left behind,” she recalled. “I switched over [from figure skating] and I really loved it. I liked going fast — it was a nice feeling.”
While Vogt has outlasted both her siblings in the sport — “last one standing,” she joked — Mallard’s family connection is still going.
Mallard started skating when she was eight, following in the footsteps of her older sister Claire. Two years older than Rachel, she described Claire as “my biggest role model and my biggest inspiration.”
“She’s super successful in the sport and also in school as well, so I think she’s a pretty solid way to model my life,” said Mallard, whose sister also moved to Calgary for the Elite Athlete Pathway program.
Calgary’s Olympic Oval is one of the best training facilities for speed skating in the country and is the “natural continuum” to advance in the sport, Mallard added.
Durham’s mom had two cousins who skated short track competitively in Quebec, which piqued her interest in the sport when she got to see them race.
And there’s one more local Canada Winter Games family tradition this year. Ottawa Pacers short-track skater Matthew Freitag will follow in the tracks of his older sister Rachel, who competed at the 2019 Games in Red Deer, AB.
Mallard said she would love to go to the Olympics at some point in her career but is just focused on making her way up the ranks right now. Local Olympians like Isabelle Weidemann, who won three medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, serve as motivation, she noted.
“Seeing where they came from, they trained at the oval in Ottawa as well, I think that’s been super awesome for upcoming skaters like myself and my teammates,” Mallard indicated.
Once upon a time a dozen years ago, Weidemann was absolutely thrilled to finish fourth at the Canada Games in the female 3,000 metres – the same event in which she won Olympic bronze last year in Beijing. Weidemann’s breakthrough performance came in Halifax, which is again the site for the Canada Games long-track speed skating competition in 2023 (the closest oval to PEI).
Neither Mallard or Vogt has been to a multisport event on the scale of the Canada Winter Games.
Vogt said her plan for the Games is to “plan your race, race your plan,” as Gloucester/Ontario coach Mike Rivet always tells her. For Mallard, the goal is to have fun and perform at her best.
“We want to do our very best and know at the end of the day we gave it our all,” she said.
The Canada Games long-track speed skating competition runs from Feb. 21-24 in Halifax, while short-track racing goes Feb. 20-25 in North Rustico, near Cavendish, PEI. Consult the full schedule here.
Visit our Ottawa at the Canada Winter Games central webpage for more coverage on our local athletes’ journeys to the PEI 2023 Games.
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