North

Short track to success: Inuvik speed skater takes on country's top challengers

A Northwest Territories teenager is ascending the ranks of amateur speed skating. Braeden Picek, of Inuvik, N.W.T., recently competed in Canadian Junior Championships

Braeden Picek, of Inuvik, N.W.T., recently competed in Canadian Junior Championships

Braeden Picek competes in the 2019 Canadian Junior Short Track Championships in Calgary. The teen is ascending the ranks of amateur speed skating. (Facebook)

A Northwest Territories teenager is ascending the ranks of amateur speed skating.

Braeden Picek, who lives in Calgary but is from Inuvik, N.W.T., recently competed in the Canadian Junior Championships in Calgary. 

"I went in ranked 32 out of 32, but in every distance I finished top 20," said 18-year-old Picek. "It's very satisfying because last year, I wasn't even close to the level I'm at now."

Observers of the sport however, shouldn't be surprised by Picek's rise.

He was Team NT's first winner at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, earning the gold ulu — the medal named after a traditional tool — in junior male 1,000-metre speed skating. He went on to win the medal two more times, snagging a bronze and another gold. He also competed for Team NT at the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

Picek isn't new to high-level races, but the Canadian Junior Championships were different. 

"It was so stacked. Like there wasn't just one or two really good people per race, everyone was really good," he said. Racing — and beating — some of the country's top skaters in his cohort is "pretty satisfying."

Everyone was really good.- Braeden Picek, speed skater

Picek focuses on short track, which he finds the most curious and exciting.

"It's really unpredictable, so like anyone can win any race," he said. "It's very tactical. It's very difficult."

Unlike other sports he's played, Picek said, short track requires physical and mental strength, as well as strategy and technical skills.

'It's not been too brutal'

Picek relocated to Calgary to focus on his sport, and though being away from home is tough at times, so far, the move has proved fruitful.

"I have some really high-level coaching. We have like weight trainers, a nutritionist, mental coaching, and I get to train with a bunch of other really good people from the West," he said. 

Having family and friends in the city also helps, so all told, "it's not been too brutal," he said.

Picek skates in Calgary's Olympic Oval now, and he credits speed skaters in the Northwest Territories for inspiring him to get there.

"There were some really good skaters when I was younger coming up that I could aim to be like," he said. 

But Picek hedges when asked about his ultimate speed skating goal.

"I try not to look too far ahead," he said. "I just want, in the next year and a half, to be ranked as high as I can at the junior national level, and depending on how I do there, decide if I want to skate into my seniors."

Written by Sidney Cohen based on an interview with Jared Monkman

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