In a regular year members of the Saskatoon Lions Speed Skating Club would be spending their winter weekends all across western Canada competing in different meets, however, during the COVID-19 crisis that hasn’t been the case.
Although these young speed skaters haven’t been able to compete due to public health measures, they’re lucky enough to have access to the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval — an outdoor facility –giving them the opportunity to train throughout the pandemic even as indoor activities were heavily restricted.
“We actually ended up winding down our indoor season early,” club president Chris Veeman said. “When the rules went down to eight people on the ice we decided that it wasn’t really viable. But, we were very lucky that we have this facility.”
Access to the outdoor oval has been one of the few bright spots the athletes have enjoyed over the past year.
“Anyone can go lift weights,” Lions Speed Skater Daniel Pauli stated. “But, actually being out on the ice is where you make real progress.”
“I thought my life was going to get less busy when COVID started,” fellow skater Julia Smith added. “But, seeing as we’ve got no competitions it actually got more busy because we’re always out here training.”
Even though they won’t see skaters from any other clubs this year, the Lions highest skilled skaters spend five nights a week on the ice.
That dedication is paramount for skaters like 17-year-old Daniel Pauli who has seen a year of his junior eligibility burned off due to the pandemic. The Grade 12 student is putting his all into training this year in hopes of qualifying for World Juniors next year.
“You just have to try your best every practice because you don’t know what anyone else is doing,” Pauli said. “Whether or not (other skaters) have had their setbacks like I’ve had mine, you’ve got to work for every opportunity that you have.”
For Smith the missed year is less detrimental — the Grade 9 student is only 14.
Even though she misses the excitement of competing, she’s currently taking full advantage of her training opportunities.
“This has more been like a training year, (it’s) about getting strong instead of about competing, so, yeah, it’s been good that we still get to do this,” she said. “I’ve just been thinking about getting stronger and working on technique, and stuff like that.
As much as speed skating is an individual sport the Lions club views each member as a part of the team, and it’s those bonds of friendship that have helped keep everyone motivated and at their best at the track in an otherwise challenging time.
“When I’m not around my friends, stuff just isn’t as fun,” Pauli explained. “When I’m not having fun I can’t train as hard, and I notice that I just don’t perform as well.”