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Speed skaters wish way into history

SYLVAN LAKE — A crew of 17 intrepid speedskaters set a new Canadian record on Sylvan Lake during the weekend.

It’s a record because it has never been done before, participant and organizer Art Goelema said of the 24-hour speedskating marathon, in which three teams of skaters covered 608 kilometres in 24 hours, finishing up at 2 p.m. on Monday.

Knees shaking and fighting back tears, participants accepted medals at the finish line while presenting a $10,000 cheque to the Children’s Wish Foundation.

The final tally will actually be more than that, said Goelema. Pledges are still coming in and won’t be added up until next Sunday night, at the conclusion of the annual Foothills Speedskating Marathon, which starts on Friday.

Elisha Jackson, fundraising co-ordinator for Children’s Wish in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, said $10,000 is the average cost of a wish for one child.

Unlike next weekend’s event, which is a formal competition, the 24-hour marathon was strictly a fundraiser, funded by a group of sponsors who ponied up the cash and equipment needed to groom the ice and support the skaters, said Goelema.

He got the ball rolling shortly after last year’s annual marathon, modelling it on similar events that are put on regularly in his home country, the Netherlands.

Goelema figured that, if they could do it in the Netherland, there was no reason it couldn’t be done in Canada.

Plans started falling in place during a campout he and his wife, Karen had with Rick and Sherry Dykstra, fellow members of the Foothills club.

They buttonholed a few more people and started laying out plans, enlisting a committee of local speedskaters to help with the work.

Sherry Dykstra, largely responsible for keeping the show going while Goelema was out on the ice, had stayed up with the skaters all night and was running short of sleep by cleanup time on Monday. She was not especially enthusiastic when Goelema suggested they start planning for another 24-hour marathon next year.

Goelema said his biggest worry as the event drew near was that the ice surface was starting to melt. He said there was a point at which he feared the speedskaters would need to run the course on canoes rather than skates.

Thankfully, temperatures dropped and the ice surface was cold and hard for the day — and night — of the event.



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