Chris Zimmerman and his children (left to right)

Chris Zimmerman and his children (left to right)

Red Deer Loppet puts cross-country skiers to the test

When Chris Zimmerman heads out to the cross-country ski trails, he often has a small team with him.

When Chris Zimmerman heads out to the cross-country ski trails, he often has a small team with him.

His five children, that is.

The Sylvan Lake father and the rest of the clan, ranging in age from seven to 15, participated in the Bob Johnstone Loppet held at Red Deer’s River Bend Golf and Recreation Area on Saturday.

Zimmerman and his wife Terri also have two little ones at home, aged three and one. It’s likely they’ll also be gliding on the tracks one day.

“I got into it just as I got married and when my first two kids came, we started skiing with them,” said Zimmerman. “We were doing it just recreationally and then those kids loved it so much, they got into racing. All the other ones have followed suit.”

Zimmerman said it’s such a great family activity during winter.

Plus, it’s a great way to get and stay in shape, he added.

“It’s a full body activity so you develop all muscle groups,” said Zimmerman. “To get out and go for an hour, that’s good for the heart. So it’s not the just the racing we enjoy, it’s the fitness too.”

According to a Globe and Mail article published on Jan. 6, researchers in Sweden and at Ball State University in Indiana found that a group of octogenarian cross-country skiers were in better shape than their counterparts who didn’t ski. The results, which will be published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, showed the skiers had about twice the cardiovascular and muscular fitness of the untrained group.

Others who came out to Saturday’s race day agree the physical benefits are good, no matter the age.

“It’s great exercise and it’s a fun sport for all ages,” said Anika Tough, 12, of Red Deer.

She thinks it’s “pretty cool” that studies are showing people can live longer if they cross-country ski.

“It’s fun and it keeps me going all day,” said the girl.

She’s been in the sport for four years and is now a part of the Track Attack program designed for skiers, aged 10 to 12, in the learning to train stage of development.

Ethan Oram, 12, of Red Deer, also trains with a club each week.

“I like that I can go fast,” said the boy.

His mother Jodie Oram said it’s a sport that has all-around health benefits.

“It’s a great full-body exercise — your abs, legs, back, everything,” said Oram. “And I think it’s just great to be outside, especially when we have a long winter. It just makes it go faster. “

The 28th annual race, considered to be one of Alberta’s longest running loppets, attracted about 120 participants. They could either race classic, skiing parallel, or skate (V-stride) style. The distances ranged from three to 30 km.

Brian Johnson, cross-country running/skiing coach, said the event is entirely volunteer run and is named after the late Bob Johnstone.

Johnstone passionately supported trail development in the Red Deer region, worked on the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, Transportation Plan and Gaetz Avenue Master Plans, and was a long-standing member of Alberta TrailNet and Central Alberta Regional Trail Society.