Interview with Nakkertok Alumnus Ben Wilkinson-Zan
1. How many years were you at Nakkertok before qualifying for the National Development Centre (NDC) in Thunder Bay?
I was in the Nakkertok Racing program for 9 years (starting from racing rabbits all the way to 1st year junior man). However I’ve been with Nakkertok from bunny rabbits
2. How did the racing program at Nakkertok and coach Kieran Jones, prepare you for the transition to the NDC?
The racing program was extremely good preparation, both mentally and physically. The Train to Compete program was the most effective and gave me the best options for my training. At this point, I was starting university and had organised my class schedule around training. This allowed me to train in the mornings, when my energy levels were fresh, as opposed to a full day of work or school. Furthermore, the level of professionalism was higher than it had ever been before. By this I mean that people were in the program so they could perform their best come wintertime. Everyone was more focussed and ready to train every session. The workouts done on my own helped me develop mental skills to focus on my technique and work on my pacing and applying the strength we had built in the gym to skiing. Overall, the program taught me a lot of time management skills, and was a step in the right direction towards the training centre spot I accepted in April.
3. You were a part-time university student at Carleton University in Ottawa while competing in your final year with Nakkertok. How did you manage to balance the demands of skiing and school?
I took 3 courses/semester at Carleton in mechanical engineering. The workload is totally manageable, although it’s important to stay on top of your work. I prioritized skiing first, and was still able to get all my coursework done. As long as I communicated with my professors and fellow students about the work I missed, I had no issues.
4. Are you continuing your engineering studies in Thunder Bay? Has the transition to Lakehead been smooth?
Yes I am, I transferred to Lakehead University and continued studying mechanical engineering. The transfer was a bit bumpy. At first, I only had 2/6 of my credits transfer over. Some of them didn’t have matching courses, so I was expecting that, however I went back and argued for 2 more credits to be transferred. In the end they transferred 3/6 in total, which isn’t great but they did have reasons for the other 3. In terms of coursework, I am left in between some courses; having done most of the course already, save for a certain section that I haven’t covered. This is somewhat inconvenient since I feel like I have already learned a lot of the course material, but it does make for easier courses.
5. What were your expectations heading to the NDC in Thunder Bay? After your first few months, how would you rate your experience so far?
I approached NDC Thunder Bay with fairly reasonable expectations. I had been a member of the National Talent Squad for 2 years before. This allowed me to work with the NDC on 2 specific trips, and gave me a glimpse of the training centre lifestyle. After the first few months, things were going well. Living on my own was a good experience, and living with team mates made it even better. The team as a whole was getting along well, and the training was going well. Timo’s coaching style left little to guessing; every workout we did had a clear purpose and specific daily goals were thought about. Video technique was done during skis and analyzed during and after workouts to determine weaknesses and things to be improved.
6. You and Jenn Jackson are the two rookies on the NDC team. How have the veterans made you and Jenn feel welcome?
The team has bonded super well this year. Everyone gets along quite well and I think everyone feels accepted quite well. Since we train 5-7 times a week as a group, we have lots of time to get to know one another even better and develop better relationships as training partners as well as friends.
7. How much time do you spend training with the team in comparison to alone?
It’s fairly similar. We almost always do strength and interval training as a team, so zone 1 workouts are the only workout that is done alone sometimes. Usually we’ll do 1 workout alone in a week. The main differenence between team training and solo training is the location I use. We almost always get team pickups, which allows us to travel to different locations. For solo training, I usually start form my house, and follow roads and bike paths to get to better training locations.
8. What are you focusing on this season and to which race(s) are you most looking forward?
This year I focussed on improving my distance racing, especially my skate distance races. I am most excited for the races this year in Europe. Depending on how I race at World Junior Trials, I either qualify for World Junior Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy or I head to Norway. Either way these races will be a new experience for me, as I have never raced in Europe before. They both have a high level of competition, and will test my racing ability against some of the best in the world at my age.
9. A highlight of your summer training season? Austria?
Austria was definitely the highlight of my training season. It wasn’t my first time to Europe, which helped my get over the jet lag and food differences better. In turn, I was more focussed and was able to really enjoy the experience and benefit from the training. We spent most mornings on the Dachstein glacier and afternoons doing a variety of workouts including strength, running or skiwalking. We stayed in Schladming, a small town at lower altitude, which let us do intensity and rest at lower elevation. It was our first training camp as a team, and we all got along really well.
10. The best thing about Thunder Bay so far…
Definitely living on my own. While sometimes it’s hard to get motivation to cook healthy and tasty food every night, it’s a super cool experience to live in a house with 4 other skiers. The extra freedom and responsibilities are manageable and I am really enjoying it.
11. What do you miss most about Nakkertok?
The thing I miss the most about Nakkertok is the training locations. In Thunder Bay, you can ski at a different location every day of the week. However, many of these locations have a small network of trails. Especially for summer training, nothing can compare to Gatineau Park. The rollerskiing is amazing, and simulates ski terrain better than most other places I have rollerskied. Coming home for the holidays was a great experience, since there were so many fun trails and places I wanted to ski. It was super easy to get out for a ski everyday since I always had new places to ski and explore.