As a kid born in Winnipeg, I wanted to grow up playing hockey.
My parents had other ideas. They were never athletes themselves, and they didn’t get in the way when I started to take part in sports. They just weren’t your classic hockey mom and dad.
They put me into swimming, to make sure I had a life skill, and skating, to give me a social skill. By skating, I mean learning how to start and stop, not going fast in a circle. Speed skating came many years after the first lessons at my local rink. So why was I encouraged to skate, but drawing parental blanks in hockey? Maybe part of the story was financial. Hockey was not inexpensive, and my mom wasn’t working back then. But also, unknown to me, clap skates have hung in the family cupboard for a while. My dad was born in the Netherlands, where speed skating was invented. His father, my Opa, grew up speedskating from city to city along the frozen canals during the winter.
Without knowing my family history, I was just young and excited to try to skate fast. My parents were quietly thinking ‘maybe this was meant to be?’ We stumbled across the CBC broadcast of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Watching Cindy Klassen rack up five medals at those games, I realized: Hey! I love to skate. I love to skate fast. This thing could be for me! As I turned around in the living room to ask my parents to sign me up, they were already ahead of me. Maybe they figured that speed skating can skip generations?
The next fall, I began my first season. I almost called it a career after year one. I had to decide about committing to the coming season. On the very last day of club registration, I asked my parents to drive me down to sign up for another year. I haven’t thought about quitting once since then.
So today, in the midst of the strangest, most challenging year in sports, I have to remind myself why I’m still skating, when there’s not a racing schedule in sight. Last season was the best of my career. As a younger skater on the National Team, I wanted to show my teammates and coaches that I belonged on the World Cup Circuit, despite my minimal experience. I steadily moved up the Men’s 1500m rankings and finished the season with a fourth place finish at the World Cup Final in Heerenveen, which bumped me up to finish sixth overall for the 2019/2020 season.
Coming off that, I was at an all-time high in confidence and motivation for this year. I was ready to race and show the world that I had more to prove.
With COVID-19 shutdowns, as an athlete, my day to day hasn’t changed a lot. Typically, before the coranavirus hit, I had early wake ups, two to four training sessions daily, and tried to squeeze in some studying during my down time. That’s all the same now, except I wear a mask whenever I leave my apartment.
So my average day hasn’t changed but the big picture, my whole season, couldn’t look more different. By this time last year, we would have skated Canadian Championships and soon be heading off for five weeks around the globe, representing Canada on the World Cup Circuit.
All of that has disappeared. We are enduring the cancellation of international competition until January, 2021. So that is a huge hit, no sugar coating it.
Still, the biggest blow to my schedule is not the pandemic, it is our broken training facility. Since late August, the Calgary Olympic Oval, which is the Canadian National Team’s training centre, has had no ice, due to a mechanical failure. The toughest part for me is having to wait patiently for our facility to be fixed, while all over social media, I watch the rest of the world, my competition, continue skating. The Canadian team has been training hard all summer, make no mistake, but we are resorting to different methods.
Every day, I wake up and push myself physically and mentally, not for short term goals, but because I want to represent Canada on the biggest stage, the Winter Olympics.
I have weekly conversations over the phone with the team’s mental performance leader. We always come to the same conclusion. What’s important now? Continuing to have fun and working hard towards my goals. All the 2020 races are cancelled, and my rink is out of commission, but I still have my training schedule.
These are unusual times and unusual circumstances, but I guess it helps to have had an unusual passion for speed skating all along.
(Top large image by Dave Holland/Canadian Sport Institute Calgary. All other photos submitted by Tyson Langelaar)
The Tyson Langelaar edition
Q: The best book you've read?
A: Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday, by Apolo Ohno
Q: Must-listen podcast?
A: The Corp with Alex Rodriguez & Barstool Big Cat
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: Skate fast and have fun
Q: If your life is a movie, what would it be called?
A: The forgetful skater
Q: Word or phrase you over use?
A: ‘Nice’ and also ‘Decent’
Q: Skill you wish you had?
Q: Something no one would guess about you?
A: I’m a slow walker
Q: What scares you?
Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: Michael Phelps, Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Denny Morrison, John Mayer and Arnold Palmer
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: Vancouver 2010 “I believe” closing montage
Q: Next goal?
A: Represent Canada at the Winter Olympics
To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.
By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.
Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.