By Charlie Pinkerton
Three skiers from Canada’s nine-time defending-national champion cross-country ski club will bare Ontario uniforms in Red Deer, Alta. this month.
Pierre Grall-Johnson, 19, has been skiing for as long as he can remember. He started training for cross-country year-round in his last years of elementary school.
Once he graduated from Glebe Collegiate two years ago, Grall-Johnson moved to Thunder Bay, where he trains at one of Cross Country Canada’s national development centres, while studying part-time at Lakehead University.
He stayed put in Thunder Bay for last year’s national championships, where he placed 3rd amongst junior men thanks to a 1st overall finish in the long sprints. His performance at nationals earned him the Ottawa Sports Awards prize as the city’s top cross-country skier for last year.
The Canada Winter Games will be a warm-up of sorts for Grall-Johnson, who says his “main priority” is still the Canadian Ski Championships, which will be held next month at Nakkertok.
“I’m looking forward to (the Winter Games), it’s definitely going to be a good experience,” he said.
Nepean-native Chloe Ranahan recalls gliding through trails with her family in the Gatineau Park since even before she could ski and would have to make the rides while strapped to her dad’s back.
“(Skiing in the Gatineau Park) is kind of a family tradition,” the 18-year-old said.
Ranahan got involved in Nakkertok’s “jackrabbit” program when she was 12 after a friend invited her to a bring-a-friend day. Because of her age she soon had to pick between recreational and competitive cross-country, of which she chose the latter.
“I’ve always been pretty competitive and I liked seeing how fast I could go, so I decided to join the racing team,” she said.
She’s raced competitively with Nakkertok ever since.
Ranahan said the community aspect of cross-country skiing is what she loves most about the sport.
“The group of people are very welcoming and friendly and, especially at Nakkertok, it’s like a big family,” she said.
She’s also hooked on the beauty of the sport.
“You get some days where it’s just really sunny conditions … and they kind of make up for all the days of training in the rain or the cold,” Ranahan added.
While speaking to the Sportspage in early February, Ranahan was in the midst of preparing for two of her biggest events of the year – the Canada Games and her first OUA championships as a member of the Carleton Ravens.
Sarah Macintosh is the youngest of Nakkertok’s athletes who is competing at this year’s Canada Games. The 17-year-old started skiing when she was eight and remembers receiving gummy bears and other candies as bribes from coaches and her parents in exchange for her dropping her resilience to harsh outdoor conditions.
“That was the main strategy for getting us out there,” Macintosh said.
A few years later when Macintosh raced in the midget division, her motivation came from a different force – her coach, Sue Holloway. Asked by the Canada Winter Games to submit someone who she considers a role model, Macintosh named Holloway.
“Having her as a coach is just amazing,” Macintosh said about the former Olympian.
“She’s done so much for women in sport and she also really shares her love for the sport really well.”
Though she’s competed at the national championships for skiing in each of the last three years, Macintosh says the Canada Games is the biggest event she’ll have ever competed in.
“(I’m looking forward to) everything. It’s going to be cool to go out with a bunch of other athletes and it will be good to meet a bunch of other people from other sports,” she said.