.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Year 1 - Success!
By:  Tom McCarthy   (2002/04/01)

First and foremost, a big thanks go out to all those who helped and encouraged us through the year, with huge respect and thanks to our coaches, Pavol Skvaridlo and John Langstone. Their patience and help were irreplaceable and they guided us to our terrific season. Thanks to other coaches who worked with us throughout the year: Greg Mark, Amy Mark, Don Moxley and Patti Kitler. Thanks also to a strong program supporter, Gail Blake at Carleton, and to Basil Phillips for the massage therapy help.

Secondly, our sponsors deserve thanks for giving us the opportunity to earn their trust and respect in our first season: RUDY PROJECT sunglasses, INFINITY ski poles, KARHU skis, MADSHUS skis, SWIX ski poles, FISCHER skis, the WAKEFIELD MILL, and most recently XC-ZONE. Special thanks goes to CARLETON UNIVERSITY for facilities and support, and to TRAILHEAD for their help. Thanks to Louis Garneau, Sierra Designs and Pearl Izumi for our clothing. Thanks to all those who helped or gave a word of support, particularly: Michel Dallaire and NCC, Stephane Latour, NCD, Cross Country Canada, skifaster.net. We are looking forward to a great year next year, and you need to keep watching this space for announcements of our 2002-2003 team (May) and upcoming camps and events.

Well, the year has come flying to a close. As I write this, the snow is gone only a week, and the golf courses are open. The rare moments of off-season laziness are upon us, and already we are thinking towards next season, planning training programs with our coaches and setting those important performance goals. In looking towards next season, we reflect on the season that has passed to gauge our strengths and weaknesses and to build on what we've accomplished. XCOttawa.ca has accomplished a tremendous amount in our first year as an elite racing team, and we are looking to continue our success in the 2002-2003 season.

Our season really started last May when a bunch of us got together and started to talk about this team we were going to have. Much of the early planning got done on runs and rides in the Gatineau Park. Imagine how excited we were when Karl found our first sponsor three weeks after our first meeting, Rudy Project glasses. We began with organized, coached practices in July and were on snow at our early snow camp in November, in Foret Montmorency, Quebec. Articles about this camp can be found in the website archives. In retrospect, this was the camp where we really came together as a team. Although the snow was thin and had to be searched for with great diligence, most people skiied every day. We checked the results from the first races in the West while we were there, on our first days on snow.

Shortly after returning from Montmorency, some of our team departed on XCOttawa.ca's first ever road trip, to the Continental Cups in Thunder Bay and Wisconsin. Shortly after arriving in Thunder Bay, the races in both locations were cancelled, so XCOttawa.ca training camp #2 began for those individuals. Luckily, the generous posse in Thunder Bay were more than willing to help our team out with accomodations and skiing, so they were well taken care of.

The first race for most of us was after January, at an Ontario Cup race held on the beautiful, picturesque (okay, flat and boring) Parkways of the Gatineau. Our daring coach Pavol vowed that the Fortune ski trails were race-able, but was overruled and quickly pulled together an admirable course at short notice (and then got up in the morning and waxed all the skis). Lee Churchill (of XC Ottawa and Newfoundland) crushed the competition on both days to win a pair of new race skis. Lee, who began skiing to check on his trap lines and won his first National Championship medal from skis purchased at Canadian Tire, was able to fight the tough classic waxing conditions to win in style.

During January, Karl and Megan, our intrepid and dynamic President and Treasurer, travelled to Estonia and Finland to represent XCOttawa.ca on the international scene. They had some stellar results (Karl 21st and 58th, Megan 21st and 49th) against the top skiers in countries where skiing is like hockey in Canada. Although lively and colourful stories of their escapades can be found on the site, two scenes come to mind; that of Karl falling out of the start gate in a National Championship (and nationally televised) race in Finland, and of Karl and Megan borrowing Andrus Veerpalu's waxing iron (Veerpalu is a world champion and 2002 Olympic medallist.)

Back home on the domestic scene, XCOttawa.ca continued to rip it up. The multi-talented Cape Bretoner Ian Murray, one of the 5 most polite people in Canada, travelled out West, where the mountains await with thin, hard-to-breathe air, to race in some Continental Cups. He did quite well out there, placing 25th and 32nd. In early February, with Ian, Karl and Megan back from their rambles, and the rest of us thoroughly engaged in midterm examinations, most of the team travelled to Mont-Orford for a Canada Cup race against the best in the East. Well, XC Ottawa showed they were the best in the East, placing Karl 1st, Lee a close 2nd, Ian 4th, and Craig Storey (web kudos go to him) in 8th. The women also showed well, with Megan 4th and Anna Spring-Doerfler (of Doerfler's Maple Syrup fame) 8th.

The next weekend was XCOttawa.ca's biggest success of the year, and the one that put us on the map in sports circles around the continent. The Keskinada, North America's only Worldloppet stop, is held on our home trails, the Gatineau Park, every year in February. It attracts international racers and international media attention. Because it is a mass-start race, our savvy coach Pavol told us to work as a team to put one guy on the top of the podium. The race was held in 15-20 cm of soft new powder snow, and the wind was howling while the snow continued to fall. XCOttawa.ca worked together to rest our favourites in the middle of the pack while our trusty workhorses (Dave "Zuggy" Zylberberg, Arno "the man" Turk, and Lee "Spidey" Churchill) set a blistering pace. Our tactic worked perfectly. Karl Saidla, our pre-race fave, blew past National team member and Olympian Robin McKeever in the last 3 kilometers to take the win in front of hundred of cheering fans and television cameras. It was a career highlight for him, and it was just as important to the rest of us.

The women also put it down in the Keskinada; Anna had one of her best races of the year with a strong 7th place finish, and Megan was right on her tail in 8th. The women had it just as tough as the guys; although the men had to fight through fresh snow, the women had to fight through crowds of men and go around these men in even deeper snow on the outside lanes. All in all, it was a great day for the team.

Following that race, we had a couple of weeks to prepare for the big one, National Championships out in Canmore, Alberta. These races were especially important for one team member, Tom McCarthy, who would be racing his first races in an XCOttawa.ca suit, having just recovered from a bout with mono. We were all ready to go, but the weather wasn't. -30 days kept us inside for most of the week, and we gradually grew more insane from television, and fatter from the awesome food fed to us by our cook and wonderwoman, Leanne. When it did warm up and we did race, our best result for the men was a 6th place for Karl in the 30k skate race, and a 13th for Lee in the sprints. Dave also had some great races out in Canmore, as did most of the men.

The womens’ team had some strong results as well, with Megan finishing in 8th position in the 15km skate race, and Laura Clements taking 16th in the competitive and fun skating sprint races. Alicia also had a strong result, taking 11th in the 15k skate race.

We returned from Nationals and, while Dave and Ian kept right on racing in Quebec, having great results (1,2, and 4) at Canadian Spring Series, most of us looked forward to the National Long Distance Champs in Mont-Ste Anne. The race course was soft and difficult, with gigantic climbs and little rest. However, the XCOttawa.ca mens team’s second greatest triumph (after Keskinada) occurred here; on a day when almost half the men's field dropped out, all of XCOttawa.ca finished the race. Karl was 6th and Dave was 9th, an amazing top ten result from a first year senior. Arno, in one of his strongest races, was 11th, Lee 12th, Tom 13th and Ian 14th. The women also did very very well in this tough race, showing XCOttawa.ca's diversity and toughness. Megan equalled Karl’s result with a very strong 6th place finish, and Anna finished in 13th spot.

The next day saw some sprint relays, with XCOttawa.ca AGAIN winning the men (Craig, Karl and Dave get props for that) and XCOttawa.ca ALSO winning the women (Megan, Anna and Michelle Zubrack (not of XCO.)

The only races which remained were in Vermont, the US Spring Series. These races featured the best skiers on the continent, with most of the U.S. Olympic team present. XCOttawa.ca, obviously tired from some great racing, didn't show quite as well in Vermont, although Tom was just coming into his racing form and placed respectably. The women did better than the men in Vermont, with Megan finishing in 17th and Anna close in behind her. After two weekends in Vermont, the racing was over and the skis waxed and put away for the next year.

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