Skiing in the Canadian Ski Marathon when I was 4 or 5 and being lured along the ski trail with liquorice and Smarties. I was a bit of a handful I’m sure, not always loving life while I was out skiing. Is it bad that most of my early memories of skiing involve candy?
You joined Nakkertok at the age of 15. What was the racing program like then?
Similar in a lot of ways to the way it is today. Smaller for sure. Practices were Wednesdays and weekends, and we had a core group of about 15-30 skiers depending on the year. Our coaches were all volunteers, one of whom was Dave Mallory, so that part has remained pretty steady! His strength machine was always out in the fall, though from what I’ve seen it’s grown with the team. We had a blast at pretty much every single ski practice, much like what I’ve seen when I’ve come home and hopped into ski practice with the racing team.
What were the experiences that led you to pursue cross country skiing at the highest level?
It was mostly just a love of the sport, and the people around me. The Nakkertok program was certainly a high performance program, but is was disguised as the most fun way to spend my weekends. I’d say for a lot of my youth I wasn’t necessarily focused on high performance, it was just a by product of playing around in the Gatineau park with a great group of people every weekend.
Who were the people who influenced your career path?
There are so many, my family for sure, skiing was something we all did together. My parents were heavily involved in the ski programs at school, Nakkertok, and the Ontario ski team, and now Kieran is coaching, so I think it’s safe to say we ended up pretty keen on cross country skiing. Dave Mallory, Heinz Niederhauser, and all of the coaches I’ve had right up until recently, with Eric de Nys, Justin Wadsworth. Then there were three pretty awesome girls I looked up to as a young racer–Beckie, Sara and Milaine who are now some of my best friends.
It’s been 14 years since you were first named to the National Ski Team. Was it a dream come true, or just the next step on a bigger journey? Describe your reaction.
I would say a bit of both, it was a goal I had, and making the National Team was kind of the next step. Back then the Junior National Team was an actual team of 6-8 skiers who spent their summers in Canmore training together, so that was really exciting. The summer after grade 11 I went to Canmore, and then came back to Almonte/Nakkertok to finish up high school, and train with Nakkertok for the fall and Winter.
You have had some great World Cup results in team and individual sprint races. Were these always your strengths? At what point did you decide to specialize as a sprinter?
Well I can’t say team sprints were always a strength, because they didn’t exist when I was growing up, but we actually did some really similar races at Nakkertok practices. Most of my Nakkertok workout memories include relays! I didn’t really decide to specialize until I was a senior, and needed to manage my energy a little better, so unfortunately that means skipping some distance races.
What is the toughest part about being a Canadian cross country skier, and how do you manage it?
Being away from home for most of the winter. And as you get older and have a home of your own, and things to miss at home-spouses, families, home cooked meals, kids, puppies… it gets harder! I’m pretty lucky as my husband Joel travels with the team, so that makes it much easier, skype and facetime are great tools, we try and cook for ourselves when we are staying in apartments, because that’s something a lot of us miss as well. When you have great teammates though (which I do) it is all a lot easier because everyone supports one another and the time flies by, and you play a lot of Settlers of Catan.
Last year at this time you were diagnosed with high iron, the exact opposite of what many female endurance athletes experience. What was the cause of this condition, how did it affect you and what was the recovery process? Any advice for younger athletes?
Hemochromatosis is 100% genetic, and in my case was not super severe. It is an excess buildup of iron stores over time causing fatigue, and the only treatment is to do blood letting (get rid of blood). So that was not the easiest since we as athletes work so hard on our blood I didn’t want to get rid of a bunch, but I did, and it took a few weeks but eventually I started to feel better.
Advice for younger athletes- pay attention to your body, I took a lot of iron supplements over the years because it was always a “risk” as a young female athlete, but I never had low iron when I did blood tests, and I probably didn’t ask enough questions. The info I always got was that taking iron supplements can’t hurt, and in most cases that’s maybe true, but not in mine. In this business your body has to be 100% in order to race fast, so you need to stay healthy. Eat well, and seek help when you don’t feel normal, or are getting sick often. There are lots of people out there who are willing to help, but they can’t help if you don’t ask.
With Chandra Crawford’s and Dasha Gaiazova’s retirement, you are the veteran of the women’s team. How have you adjusted to this change?
Someone else called me the “grizzled veteran” recently, so thanks for not making me feel THAT old! It’s a transition for sure, but an exciting one as well. It’s been great to have the young bucks around and the energy that comes with that. I’m not going to be around for ever either, so it’s a good chance to pass some of what I’ve learned on to the next generation.
Comment on the future of the National Women’s Ski Team.
I think the future is bright, there are many positives. Heidi Widmer and Emily Nishikawa were both at the Olympics in Sochi and are hungry for more after that experience. I can’t think of two better leaders for a women’s team, they are both great individuals who have a lot of potential as skiers, and I think they will help build a really healthy team environment for the girls coming up.
How would you encourage more women to reach for the top in cross country skiing?
I would say go for it, if you are undecided about what you want to do take a year or two and really try and do things right as a skier and see what happens. It is possible to go to school and ski, I know lots of people who have done it very successfully. You are never to old to go to school, but eventually you will be too old to ski race at the highest level, so take the opportunities and challenges when they are available.
Listen to your body, you know yourself better than anyone. You need to work really hard, but also rest really hard. Always think about how you can improve the quality of your training session.
Congratulations on a great start to the 2014-15 racing season! What will be your focus this year?
The world championships in Falun is certainly the main focus, but there are some other sprints I will be targeting after Christmas and after the tour de ski.