Northern Canadian skier Roseanne Allen dies

Roseanne Allen, a cross-country skier who was one of the first aboriginal women to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics, died on Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. She was 55.

Roseanne Allen, a cross-country skier who was one of the first aboriginal women to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics, died on Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. She was 55.

Allen, who was born in 1954 in Aklavik, N.W.T., made history at the 1972 games in Sapporo, Japan, when she and twin sisters Shirley and Sharon Firth represented Canada in nordic skiing in the Winter Olympics.

A member of the Gwich'in First Nation, Allen and the Firths were the first aboriginal women to compete in the Olympics, according to a biography of Allen posted on the website of the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Western Arctic.

"Roseanne was full of laughter, full of life," Sharon Firth told CBC News on Tuesday. "You know, she was a really happy person. She always had something nice to say about people and [was] a great storyteller, great memory.

"She would reminisce about all our skiing days and ... she knew every detail of what we did. So, she was a very brilliant person."

Allen was warm and cheerful but also a tough competitor, Firth recalled.

The youngest of 17 children, Allen attended the Grollier Hall residential school in Invuik, N.W.T., when she was eight years old. She began skiing when she was 10.

In 1968, when Allen was 13, she became the youngest Canadian to win gold in the five-kilometre nordic skiing category at the Canadian Junior Championships in Port Arthur, Ont.

That same year, she was nominated to the national junior cross-country skiing team.

While at the 1972 Olympics, Allen anchored the three-person women's five-kilometre relay team to 10th place, beating out their chief rivals from the United States.

Allen quit racing in 1974 and moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in 1988, where she was working at an Indian friendship centre.

Her cause of death was not immediately known. There is no word to date on funeral arrangements.