What a ride it’s been for Abigail McCluskey.
The 24-year old speed skater from Penticton is taking part in the International Skating Union (ISU) World Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands, next week.
It’s a long way from the Capital News Centre in Kelowna, where McCluskey’s speedskating journey began 10 years ago.
“When I was 14, I decided I wanted to start speedskating and the closest club was in Kelowna,” McCluskey told Global News.
In Grade 9 at the time, McCluskey, would drive from Penticton to Kelowna once a week under the tutelage of Nancy Goplen, where the work ethic of a national competitor really started to take shape.
“Grade 10 and 11 (training) was twice a week and by Grade 12, I was up there three days a week until I graduated high school,” she said. “And then I moved to Calgary.”
Her passion for the sport was initially triggered by watching the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“Clara Hughes and Christine Nesbitt were the two athletes that really stood out to me and inspired me. Cindy Klassen as well,” she said.
Now, McCluskey is competing among the sport’s elite. She admits it can be challenging at times to temper her nerves.
“There’s a lot of nerves involved. I’m still learning how to be around the cameras and not getting spooked by the bigger names in the sport.”
While this is just her second world championships, McCluskey is no stranger to the international stage, having represented Canada at the world sprint speedskating championships and the world single-distance speedskating championships.
She also competed at other international competitions, including ISU speedskating World Cups.
Unlike those competitions, though, COVID-19 has presented a slew of challenges for the B.C. product leading up to next week’s ISU world championships.
“The biggest challenge for the Canadian team has been the fact that we didn’t have indoor ice all season. Our facility broke down in Calgary and hasn’t been fixed yet, so we were skating on outdoor ice,” said McCluskey.
The team would drive 90-minutes to Red Deer three times a week to train, making for much longer training days.
“We also were socially distancing on ice, which we don’t normally do. So that made a big impact on training as well,” she noted.
Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, McCluskey says she’s more than ready to compete with the sport’s best and continues to raise the bar when it comes to her personal goals.
“My ultimate goal is to be at the Olympics in one year. I have a lot of work to do still and I know it won’t be easy,” she said.
While she isn’t putting too much pressure on herself, McCluskey will get a glimpse of just how close she is to accomplishing that goal when she competes in the ladies’ 3,000-metre race on Thursday, Feb. 11, and the 1,500 on Sunday, Feb. 14.
“I’m not super concerned about where I place or how fast I can go this year,” said McCluskey.
“It’s just about being here and getting the experience.”