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Nordic club getting more competitive

It wasn’t that long ago the Red Deer Nordic Club was more recreational than competitive.

That’s changed a bit over the last few years.

“We’re building it up and we have a few good kids, who are more competitive and take it more seriously,” explained assistant coach Brian Johnson, who has been with the club for five years. “In the past it was more recreational, now they want to compete for the Alberta Cup.”

The cross-country ski club has also hired Graeme Moore as a “full time” head coach, although as Johnson explains it’s only half time.

“You find the big ski clubs hiring a coach full time, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “We can’t compete with them, but we’re halfway there.”

The RDNC is for the kids 13 and over while the Track Attack, which is new to the Red Deer Club, is for youngsters 10-12, who have likely came out of the Jack Rabbits program.

Johnson is the head coach of the Track Attack, which has 25 athletes registered. There’s also 25 in the Nordic Club and 50 in Jack Rabbitts.

“And we’re always looking for more,” said Johnson, who feels the Track Attack was a key addition to the program.

“There was a gap between the older kids and the Jack Rabbits and it was hard for the kids to make that jump,” he explained.

The Track Attack works out three times a week, usually at River Bend, with the older skiers in the Nordic Club practicing three to five times a week.

“At times we have the Track Attack kids working with the older kids as it gives them a chance to see the speed and what they need to do to take the next step.”

There are four members of the RDNC who are among the best in the province. In fact Bailey Johnson has already wrapped up the Alberta Cup title in the U14 girls’ division. The Alberta Cup winner is determined on the results of five of their eight races. The Red Deer team has been involved in six races and Bailey Johnson has won all six.

Anna Zimmerman and Claire Espey are two of the top skiers in the U16 girls’ category and Gavin Rittamer in the U14 boy’s division.

The top three races, at the end of the season, qualify for the provincial team, which means they get extra competition and attend extra camps.

Zimmerman, whose younger sister Reyna is one of the top skiers in the U8 division, will represent Red Deer at the national finals in Vancouver.

A number of the Red Deer competitors will also be at the Western Canadian championships this weekend in Grande Prairie.

While the Track Attack also competes at a number of events, Johnson looks at it as a chance for kids to work on their skills while enjoying the sport.

“We’re not all competitive,” he said. “But the kids do work hard and learn the skills while having fun.”

But cross-country skiing, much like cross-country running, which Johnson also coaches at Hunting Hills, is a sport that takes a lot of time and dedication to be among the elite.

“The kids ski in the dark and cold . . . they need toughness and endurance to be competitive. It’s a tough sell at times and you need the right kids to do it.”

There are a few kids who run cross-country and also ski.

“There are, but you find the top runners are in the middle of the pack in nordic,” Johnson explained.

The RDNC is relatively inexpensive and the club will provide some equipment. The Track Attack costs $175 for a season while the Nordic Club costs $300 for recreation skiers and $600 for full competitive skiers.



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