2012 Gatineau Loppet: 23 out of 23..A Bit Slower Though!
By: Dev Paul (2012/02/21)
In 1985 I did my first triathlon in Kingston Ontario. It was the first time I swam 2K…back then, no wetsuit. Early in the bike I was passed by the eventual winner. The guy was motoring like he was in the Olympics 100K Team Time Trial. Then I saw him flying on the run near the turnaround. That day, Pierre Harvey won the race, at the time setting a Kingston Tri run course record of 48 minutes (for 15K). I finished my first triathlon in 100th place exactly. As it turns out, Pierre Harvey had also raced the 100K TTT as a cyclist in the 76 Olympics... so it makes sense how fast he was riding.
After the race Pierre took 15 minutes to speak to the guy that finished in 100th place. I asked him what I should do to improve. He said that he was training for the Calgary Olympics “at home” and had just come off the Sarajevo Olympics in XC skiing. He encouraged me to get on skis because it was an awesome sport. I was a cadet at RMC at the time and got some skis and floundered around a bit with the help of some of the guys who grew up on skis.
In 1989 when I got posted to Ottawa, I decided to do the Gatineau 55 as it was known then. I registered for my first 55 in Feb of 1990 and started way back in the F wave.
Little did I know that the single conversation with Pierre would lead to a 23 year odyssey of sorts. In my life, I have not done anything aside from eating, sleeping, and breathing on the same weekend of the year for 23 years straight. For anyone who thinks that elite athletes don’t matter, think again. The inspiration that Pierre gave me, not only got me skiing, but along the way, I ended up running the Jackrabbits program at Kanata Nordic and now coach a bunch of teenage skiers in the programs at the club. Hopefully, I am passing on a small piece of what Pierre gave me to the next generation (albeit in a much smaller way).
So back in July, I had a fairly bad accident at Ironman Switzerland. I wrote about it on my flight back from Frankfurt with one finger as my hand was stuck in a cast:
With a broken cheekbone, sprained wrist, breaks in the hand, major concussion, bad neck injuries, ripped groin and sprain knee, I embarked on several months of re learning how to do basic things…even walking. I just noticed this week that I still don’t walk down stairs properly.
So on the Nov 30th deadline, I registered for my 23rd Gat loppet. I figured that just registering for it would give me something positive to look forward to, because I was generally having more down days than up. The good news is that even though balance was off on the left side of my body, I was able to ski. The engine does not disappear after three decades of being an competitive athlete (of sorts), but when it came to running and biking, my left leg would not go where my brain was telling it. Fortunately, when my leg was trapped in a ski boot, things worked OK.
Below is the report I sent my XC skier friends
It was great to see lots of friends from all over at the Gatineau Loppet today. Since my accident last summer, most things have been more challenging than they used to be. I remember last fall, missing a connection in Chicago airport, because I just could not walk across the airport fast enough after a red eye from San Francisco to Chicago to make my connection to Ottawa....my left leg was totally locked up. Anyway, I had started some running in the fall but then decided to give it up right after New Years. It had gotten to the point that I could not go more than 20m to stop to stretch due the nerve damage in my left leg. But when I was locked into a ski boot, things seemed to work fine for skiing.
Well, in the last month, I can now walk more or less like a normal person and have been able to do slow runs with proper technique on the treadmill....but just 12 days ago, I started to have more trouble skiing, with my left leg not moving in space where my brain was telling it to go.
Anyway, I had the fitness to do the Gatineau Loppet and had done it 22 years in a row, so may as well go and give things a try and worst case tour in for the finish and take it conservatively (in the back of my mind, I was hoping that my body would behave and do what I was asking it to do). But in going to race, I could be around all kinds of friends who I see at the race every year. In the afternoon, many of the kids who I coach would be doing the 10K, so may as well go for it and see what happens.
Well, all I can say is that I am thankful for all the encouragement and support from you guys. It is great to be part of such a community. I kept my streak alive and made it to year 23, 7 months after smashing my head into a house in Switzerland and coming home in an ambulance. I told myself that 2012, I need to just be patient, forget about racing hard and just get things working properly and just go out where I can to participate. This year's Gat loppet was just about being out there. Up to now, my left leg was working OK, even though balance was off. I had successfully done the Skinouk cup 15K and Eastern Canadian's 15K with just slight lack of balance but no fighting my body like I was for running and cycling. Well, in the past 12 days I was fighting it on skis and it made things really tough today, even though aerobically and energy wise I was fine (heck I skied > 70K today with our race, the warmup, the kids 10K and the ski back to my car at P3). When things got tough I just stopped using my legs and double poled, because my upper body is working fine, so I could keep taking breaks for my left leg that way!
Anyway, I want to thank you guys who helped me get there in training or via email and phone. Your presence made today a great day. Now I guess I better take a break from XC skiing, because I don't want to do anything where I am fighting my own body like the guys with MS. Imagine living like that....I just had to endure a small version of it for 51k lasting 2:44. Back to more physio and chiropractor work.
Thanks guys. Hopefully things will sort themselves out in 2013. That is my hope and we have to hold on to that! Congrats to all you folks on the amazing results
If nothing else I did not let that crash get in the way of keeping the streak alive….as you can tell, the mission is to get to 25 years of Gatineau Loppet 50K! Sure, that was my worst result in 15 years, around 60-80 placed down compared to usual, but the goal was to just be out there. We must all come to terms with our mortality and the nice thing about being an athlete, is that you get an early window into decreased performance over time. Sometimes it happens gradually, sometimes traumatically. Regardless as masters athletes, we all need to work with that. I have to say, that it is not easy and some days I wish I could change events of July 2012 by 6 inches and everything would be different…but we cannot change the past as much as I’d like, just go with the present and work for the future.
Along the way, we can inspire those around us, especially the kids. We had some great results in the 10k from my crew at Kanata Nordic with PB’s across the board even when you remove this year’s slightly shorter course! Great job guys!
Reade about Dev's 20th Gloppet - 2009 Gatineau Loppet Report #1- Jay Heins Saves My 20th!