Former Hay River hockey player laces up skates for new Olympic sport

From hockey player to sprinter, now Gavin Broadhead is trying out speed skating after winning a high-performance sport recruitment program in Alberta.

Hay River's Gavin Broadhead won the regional RBC Training Ground program final in Alberta

Gavin Broadhead won this year's regional RBC Training Ground competition in Alberta. (Submitted by Kevin Light)

From hockey player to sprinter, now Gavin Broadhead will be hitting the ice for a whole new sport at the Olympic level. 

Speed Skating Canada recently showed interest in the 23-year-old from Hay River, N.W.T., after he placed first at the regional RBC Training Ground final in Alberta. In July he will be headed to a four-day training camp at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. 

"I'm pretty excited about the opportunity," Broadhead said.

The program, co-sponsored by the CBC, RBC and the Canadian Olympic Committee, aims to find athletes with Olympic potential and support them with high-performance sport resources.

Athletes aged 14 to 25 years old are assessed using speed, strength, power and endurance tests. Qualifying events include the vertical jump, beep test, six second bike sprint, single broad jump, standing triple jump and arm leg bike. 

'I didn't think I was going to die but I knew it was going to be difficult," Gavin Broadhead said of the arm leg bike endurance test. (Submitted by Kevin Light )

Broadhead had the best beep test score at the Alberta final and said he pushed himself so hard on the arm leg bike that he considered asking a medic to standby. He fell to the ground incapacitated afterward.

"I've used those bikes before and I know what can happen if you're on it pedalling hard enough for long enough," he said. "So I didn't think I was going to die but I knew it was going to be difficult."

Fourteen sporting organizations were watching the competition. Broadhead said Speed Skating Canada approached him because he did well on the endurance and speed tests and because of his experience playing in the Western Hockey League. 

Broadhead was drafted by the Medicine Hat Tigers when he was just 14 years old and played as a centre. But he said he decided to leave the sport after suffering a serious concussion at the age of 18.

Gavin Broadhead played as a centre with the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Submitted by Gavin Broadhead)

"Originally going into the Western Hockey League my plan was to be a professional hockey player and that was my goal since I was a little kid but I mean your brain's pretty valuable," he said.

Broadhead wasn't done with sports altogether though. He took up crossfit and Olympic weightlifting for two years. Then he began running at the University of Lethbridge where he studies kinesiology. Growing up in the Northwest Territories he said he used to compete in cross-country and track and field.  

Transitioning between sports, Broadhead has had to adapt his body and strengthen different skills. When he began playing hockey he gained weight and worked on his speed and power. When he moved on to running, he carefully watched his diet and said he dropped about 30 pounds. 

Broadhead said he loves the challenge. (Submitted by Kevin Light)

"It takes a little bit of discipline at times, I mean you still have to be human and you know once in awhile eat something tasty but yeah it's a lot of veggies, a lot of meat, lots of rice but not so much processed foods that sometimes taste really good from the gas station." 

While it's not for everyone, Broadhead said he loves the challenge. 

"I just love the lifestyle like I love waking up in the morning with a plan how I'm going to train, how I'm going to eat," he said.

"It's amazing what's actually capable and what your body can do if you really dial in on what you want to do ... It might seem a little bit crazy but I mean it gives me some peace of mind." 

Speed Skating Canada hasn't sent out official invitations yet, and Broadhead said he'll get to try a number of new sports including track cycling.

Right now he's focused on preparing for the training camp and said he'll be riding his road bike around Hay River. 

With files from John Last and Loren McGinnis