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Netherlands newcomers enjoy marathon ‘tradition’

Growing up in the Netherlands, Sieka Boom used to spend all her free time on the ice.

These days she watches with delight as Jannie, her 17-year-old daughter, glides lap after lap around the local rink in Olds.

But this weekend Boom felt a little closer to home as she joined the mostly Dutch-crowd to take in the annual Sylvan Lake Ice Marathon.

“Skating, you grew up with it,” said Boom.

“You give (your children) possibilities to skate and you hope they like it.”

Boom said she is envious of the lake because the only option for speedskating in Olds is at the hockey rinks. Speedskating is just as popular in the Netherlands as hockey is in Canada.

Boom is pleased her daughter took to the sport and has channeled a part of her Dutch heritage. Boom noted the popular and frequent competitions in villages throughout her native country.

A small bridge that spans the track in Sylvan is named after Bethlehem, a small village in The Netherlands.

“They also have the same little cute bridge over the lake,” said Boom.

“That’s one part of that competitions from the Netherlands. They put it also on this lake.”

Jannie said her friends love it when she puts on her speed skates to glide around the rink.

Boom said she hopes more Canadian youth will give speedskating a try.

Likewise Jan Heida of Barrhead was cheering on his two sons and wife during the competition. Heida said it’s part of their Dutch culture and he wants his children to enjoy it.

Mother Nature was on the organizers’ side for the three-day competition. Organizers said the crowds of about 100 people each day were larger than in the last two years.

Onlookers, however, said if this event was held in Holland, there would be elbow room only.

Foothills Speed Skating Marathon Association president Henrik Helmig said the sport is gaining popularity in Canada. Helmig moved to Olds from Holland about 13 years ago where he was a recreational skater. He took up speedskating about eight years ago because of the Sylvan Lake event.

“Every year we are growing,” said Helmig. “Not only here, but in the Canadian population.”

The three-day ice marathon began on Friday and wrapped up on Sunday. Last weekend, 17 skaters participated in the inaugural 24-hour speedskating marathon. The event was modeled after similar events in the Netherlands. The fundraising event brought in more than $10,000 for the Children’s Wish Foundation.



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