By Matt Graveline
Allison Stephenson of Lisgar Collegiate Institute is preparing for an exciting new season with the Nakkertok Nordic Cross Country Ski Club.
Nakkertok, the biggest cross-country club in the region, will host the Eastern Canadian Cross-Country Skiing Championships from Feb. 4-5, at their newly improved facilities near Cantley, Que.
The Grade Nine student will compete against roughly 50 racers in the two five-kilometre races.
Although Stephenson has placed in the top ten before in other races, she is unsure whether a podium finish is possible at the Easterns.
Featuring the top racers in Ontario and Quebec, the competition is also part of the Ontario Cup, Quebec Cup and Ontario university circuits.
The club last hosted the competition four years ago.
Stephenson has been part of the club since 1997, starting in the Bunny Rabbit program for children aged four to six.
She now races with the Junior Racers program in the juvenile girls category.
Stephenson has been training three times a week this fall with her newly hired head coach Mike Vieira, a Lisgar alumnus.
Vieira served in a volunteer capacity last year as an assistant coach for the team.
He was hired for a new paid position because the club thought it was essential to have an enthusiastic coach on staff who could think about Nakkertok’s plans full-time, says Jim McCarthy, chief of competition for the Eastern championships.
“A young guy is important because we need a younger role model for kids,” McCarthy says.
Stephenson says that, in her opinion, Vieira is fulfilling his new role well.
“He works well with all kinds of different age groups,” she says.
Vieira says he is excited about his new job.
“It’s quite the honour, it’s amazing, and I would have done it without the pay.
“They are easily one of the best clubs in the country and I appreciate the opportunity,” he says.
Vieira’s past head coaching jobs include stints with the highly successful Whistler Nordic ski club and the Queen’s University Nordic ski team.
While Vieira and his athletes get ready to compete, many more logistical preparations still have to be made.
“Our volunteer network is an army,” Vieira says.
There have been tons of volunteers preparing the improved trail system. “It’s unique in that it’s the only trail that loops in and out of the stadium five times,” Vieira says.
Stephenson, whose father John is in-charge of trail maintenance, likes the new trails.“With the wider trails, it will make it easier to pass people,” she says.
Vieira hopes the new improvements and the fact that Nakkertok is hosting the Easterns this year will allow his club to host more championship races.
“It’s just a stepping stone or a launching pad to allow Nakkertok to host the Nationals sometime in the near future,” Vieira says.
Although McCarthy says the new trails could handle this ambitious plan, as chief of competition he is a little more apprehensive about hosting the largest race of the year and planning too soon for future events.
“It would be really neat, but we’d have to prove ourselves with this one first,” he says.
“Events like this are a lot of work and a lot of stress, and there is a huge sigh of relief when it all works out.”