Former Peace Region speed skaters grateful for Fort St. John training camp

With Speed Skating Canada’s national team training camp taking place in Fort St. John this week and last, two former Peace region skaters found themselves returning to where they started to push their speed skating careers forward.

The national team has been without ice to practice on at the Calgary Olympic Oval since early September due to a mechanical failure, and skaters have either not skated at all, or have been practicing short track speed skating on hockey rinks in the meantime. The opportunity to hold a training camp at the Pomeroy Sport Centre is just what the team — especially Kaylin Irvine and Jacob Graham — needed.

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“It’s amazing. We’ve had so many ups and downs this year, but it’s really nice to be back on long track ice,” said Graham.

Graham grew up in Dawson Creek, and has had some success on the Pomeroy oval. He won gold in the 500m at the Canada Cup in Fort St. John last year and set the track record in the distance. He doesn’t visit Dawson Creek or the Peace as often as he used to — his family has moved, though he does come back for work and to see friends from time to time — but he was excited to be back close to home for camp.

“It’s really just been a breath of fresh air. We’ve had so much uncertainty, we’re only a year out from the Olympics, so even though we can’t be racing as much as we would normally be, it’s good to get much training in as possible,” said Graham.

Graham has been a member of Speed Skating Canada’s NextGen team since 2015.

Irvine grew up in Fort St. John, and learned the sport as a member of the Fort St. John Elks when she was 10. She continued to skate with the club until she was 15, when her family moved back to Calgary. Though she’s been a member of the national speed skating team since 2011, this is her first time skating at the Pomeroy Sport Centre, and her first time returning to Fort St. John since she left 15 years ago.

“Finding out we were going to have a camp here was the first piece of good news we received in several months. A lot of people worked really hard to make this camp happen, and I feel extremely grateful for that,” said Irvine.

Though some of her team members, like Graham, have been skating on hockey ice surfaces, Irvine has barely done any ice training this fall, as her history with concussions makes that surface a more riskier environment.

“It’s a real treat to be back on the long track. The whole team misses it so much,” she said.

As for returning to Fort St. John, that’s been an experience in and of itself.

“It’s a bit bizarre coming back, my perception now is much different than when I was a kid. Certain buildings seemed so much bigger, and I can see the town has definitely grown,” Irvine said.

Irvine recalled how windy and cold it was when she was speed skating here as a kid, before the oval was built.

“I remember there was a little shack, we would run out and do a couple laps, and then return to the shack to fend off frost bite. I remember getting knocked to the ground at 10 years old coming around the corner due to the wind, but on the other stretch the wind would be at your back and push you down the track,” Irvine said.

Being in Fort St. John is also a chance for the entire national program to be in one place. The national team is split, with half training in Calgary and the other half in Quebec. Usually, only a distance team will go to a certain camp (as was the case when the team trained in Fort St. John in 2018), or just the NextGen team — it’s not often all 50 skaters, trainers and coaches are in one place together.

“It’s incredible to be here with the entire team and to see everyone,” Irvine said.

Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca.

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