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Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club hosts Ontario Cross Country Youth Championship's return (9 photos)

Club captures banner, community support in emotional return to competition after COVID shutdowns

This year's provincial cross country ski championship was a bit different than past years and a welcome return to something close to normal activity says one of the event organizers, Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club president Amy Wheeler Reich.

The Ontario Youth Championships were held this past weekend at Hiawatha Highlands and saw 184 athletes from 14 clubs across the province aged 9-13 come together to try to capture the championship banner for 2022.

"The championships were supposed to be held in Timmins this year," she said. "The Timmins board of health (Porcupine Health Unit) felt the town wasn't ready for this kind of thing, yet, so Cross Country Ski Ontario approached us at the end of January."

Wheeler Reich put it to the Sault club to see if they thought it could be done and was greeted with an enthusiastic 'yes!'

"It was a very intense month of planning," she said. "It was very heartwarming because everyone was so supportive."

That support was not limited to the Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club, either. The city came on board with support and many local businesses, too.

"Someone asked Pinos for some apples to give participants and they gave us 400," Wheeler Reich said. "Someone else asked A&W for chocolate milk and they gave us 200. Everybody we asked was so supportive. I'm still on kind of a high from it all." 

That support paid off as 51 local club members rallied to clinch the club banner.

Clubs work together with each participant earning points toward the championship banner total and the banner is awarded to the club with the highest score over the course of the weekend.

One point is awarded for participation and points are added for race finishes and podium standings, making the event a true team effort.

Wheeler Reich said the overwhelming emotion many expressed to her and that she felt was joy at a return to competition after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 protection measures.

"It felt wonderful to be back," she added. "We received so much feedback from everyone about how great it was to be doing something normal."

The club worked closely with Algoma Public Health to ensure everyone in attendance would be safe but, because all the events were outdoors, it was easier than expected to meet the public health guidelines.

"We had no indoor gatherings and we didn't open the lodge to participants," Wheeler Reich said. "Officials wore masks when inside and volunteers from the Soo Finnish Nordic club wore masks at all times just because it would have been difficult for them to stay more than six feet from participants."

It was an especially inspiring event for many of the club's younger members who had never had a chance to see or compete in a championship.

They had participated in a month-long workshop to help them prepare for this weekend's event but the event itself really inspired them to train for more competition. 

"Seeing the entire ski community come together to put this on was definitely the highlight of our season at Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club," said Wheeler Reich. "The whole thing has been great! So many people came out to help."

The club hopes to host the event again next year but that remains to be seen. Wheeler Reich explained that usually, a club will host the event for two years then it is moved to another location. Because the event was supposed to be held in Timmins this year, it may go back there next year.

The full text of a news release on the event from the club follows.

Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club was out in full force this past weekend with 51 athletes aged 8-13 clinching the club banner at this year’s Ontario Youth Championships at home in Sault Ste. Marie. A total of 184 athletes from 14 clubs across the province were in attendance.

The championship banner is awarded to the club with the highest score over the course of the weekend. Points are awarded for race finishes and podium standings. The win is a team effort, with contributions from every skier who participated, in both freestyle and classic technique. The full list of athletes, and race results, are available online.

Podium standings are a sea of blue and green with 14 medals for SFN athletes. Saturday’s freestyle interval start races produced U14 girls bronze for Kate De Beer; U12 boys (2010) gold for Jasper Tchir; U12 boys (2011) gold for James Elgie and silver for Finn Aho; U10 boys podium sweep for SFN’s Benjamin Campbell (gold), Xiaokang Cui (silver), and Nathan Slagel (bronze); U10 girls gold for Gwendolyn Tchir, and silver for Evelyn Teresinski. Sunday’s classic mass start races saw U14 girls gold for Kate De Beer; U12 boys (2010) gold for Jasper Tchir; U12 boys (2011) gold for James Elgie; U10 boys bronze for Benjamin Campbell; U10 girls gold for Gwendolyn Tchir and silver for Evelyn Teresinski.

Cross Country Ski Ontario technique awards were handed out to Samuel Phaneuf and Declan McLarty.

This strong showing is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all Soo Finish Nordic athletes under the guidance of many volunteer coaches, including Ian Sinclair, Trisha Westman, Joe Reich, and Anna Reich. Big thanks to wax techs Ray Gingras, Helen Lindfors, Trevor Tchir, Erik Kary, Luke Kahtava, Brad Phaneuf, and many helping hands.

Community support for this event was strong, with valuable contributions from the City of Sault Ste. Marie, SSM Downtown Association, Algoma Bicycle Company, Vélorution Bike & Ski, Exit Realty, Freshii, A&W (121 Great Northern Road location), Metro (Churchill Plaza & Northern Avenue locations), Pino’s Get Fresh, Pita Pit, Booster Juice, Northern Superior Brewery, and the Sault Area Hospital Volunteer Association.

These races stand out for Ontario’s youth cross country ski community as a measured and safe return to routine. The March 2020 provincial youth championships took place the weekend before COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began, and are a defining memory of ‘normal times’ before a two-year drought of closures and cancellations.

With the help of over 90 volunteers, Soo Finnish Nordic Ski Club was able to put on a safe, outdoor event within the province’s health and safety guidelines to welcome back a much-loved competition.

Hiawatha Highlands offers over 50 km of groomed ski trails that cater to skiers of all ages and abilities in Algoma’s great outdoors. If you would like more information, visit its website, or the club website. See you on the trails!