Members of the Sturgeon River race team, coached by Bill and Joan Jeffery, traveled to Canmore, Alta. for their final races of the season at the Sharkfest and Alberta Cup on March 29-30. Submitted photo
The Sturgeon River cross-country race team wrapped up their season in grand fashion at the annual Sharkfest and Alberta Cups 7 & 8 in Canmore, Alta., on March 29-30.
Five members of the race team competed against more than 270 athletes in various age categories, achieving a series of medals and personal bests.
Sturgeon River coach Joan Jeffery said the event was a “treat” for the members of the team attending the event after they endured one of the harshest Saskatchewan winters in recent memory.
“It was a difficult season here,” Jeffery, who coaches the team along with her husband Bill, explained. “It just seemed that every time we went to practice it was -26 with a howling wind. The kids never whimpered or complained so it was a nice way to finish off our season, a reward for their efforts all year.”
Prince Albert natives Anna Sigurdson, Matthew Gill, Alex Wilson and Jessica Gill along with Jenna Beaulieu of Shellbrook attended the event, competing up against strong Alberta, British Columbia and Northwest Territories teams.
In the two-day pursuit event, Matthew Gill took the overall Sharkfest Championship along with additional gold and bronze medals in the Alberta Cup events.
“They did fantastic,” Jeffery said of the team’s overall performance. “Most of this group is racing at the top of their age group in Saskatchewan but when you step out into Alberta, sometimes it’s a real reality check.”
Jeffery added that given the competitive nature of the sport in Alberta, for Gill to step in and beat out older competitors in his first out-of-province event as a 13-year-old was quite impressive.
“I don’t want to say it was unheard of, but everybody was in a bit of a shock over that,” she said of Gill’s series of medal wins.
Also mining medals was Matthew’s younger sister Jessica, who took home a bronze in the Alberta Cup No. 8 skate race.
In what was one of the most successful events of the season for the team, Jeffery said she was proud of her skiers for taking on the Olympic trails at Canmore and achieving personal best times in their races.
“They weren’t intimidated by anything,” she said.
As the cross-country skiing season draws to a close in Prince Albert, the team will begin their off-season training regiment.
After taking some time off, Matthew Gill and Sigurdson will get right back to training as they both hope to secure a spot on Team Saskatchewan for the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., starting on Feb. 13.
“They say that cross-country skiers are built in the summer,” Jeffery’s said. “It’s very important for them to dry land train so that they hit the snow in good shape.”
Jeffery added that in May, Gill, Sigurdson and other members of the team will attend a high-performance training camp in Waskesiu to complement their off-season training, which includes an extensive range of summer activities.
Heading into a Canada Winter Games selection race in Prince Albert in November, Jeffery said the pair have a good shot at cracking the squad.
“They are certainly in the mix,” she said adding that the sport’s landscape in Saskatchewan makes it easier for a skier as young as Matthew to compete at a high level. “In this province it’s not unheard of but in Alberta you would never get that because they have so many skiers to choose from.”