This year marks the 70 anniversary of the Central Lions Speed Skating Club.
A truly remarkable man, who played a key role in that Club and helped make our community a centre of excellence in provincial, national and international speed skating, was Bruno Comis.
Bruno Comis was born in Teplitz (Teplice), Bohemia, on December 22, 1910. He moved with his family to Red Deer in 1918. He later took up a career in the concrete business.
In 1939, he married Catherine Willing of North Red Deer. They raised four children, Patricia, Paige, Anita, and Brian. In 1941, the Comis’s moved from West Park to the Village of North Red Deer.
Bruno and Catherine quickly became very active in their community. One accomplishment, of which they were very proud, was working with the Village of North Red Deer and their neighbours to create a playground and sports field on the north side of 60 Street under a 99-year lease with the Village.
In 1956, Bruno Comis agreed to become the volunteer coach for the Central Lions Speed Skating Club. The Club had been formed in 1952 and was already building a reputation as a provincial powerhouse.
Ironically, although an athletic man, Bruno was not a particularly good skater and had no personal experience in speed skating. Nevertheless, he tackled his new responsibilities with great passion. He was also able to devote a great deal of time to the Club, as the concrete business was generally seasonal.
Bruno quickly learned as much as he could about the sport. He carefully studied the techniques of experienced skaters. He took reams of 8 mm film of competitions so that he could help make the skaters in his Club even better.
Bruno also aggressively lobbied City Council and the Recreation Department to have a high-quality outdoor speed skating oval created in the park area on the east side of 47A Avenue.
After the oval was built in 1958, Bruno did much of the maintenance work himself. He kept the ice cleared of snow. He made an ice machine out of mobile cement mixer and personally flooded the oval to make sure that the ice was kept in top condition.
Bruno soon launched an intensive program of dryland training for the Club in the summer months. One of his most successful techniques was having the skaters run up and down the 200 steps on the hill below old St. Joseph Convent. Bruno added increasing numbers of weights to the vests of the athletes to further build their strength and stamina.
Red Deer’s speed skating club soon built up a reputation as one of the very best in Canada if not in North America. The skaters won a truly impressive number of provincial, national and North American championships and held all kinds of provincial, national and international speed skating records. Additionally, Red Deer won two national outdoor club championships.
Marcia Parsons Beckner became the first Red Deer resident to compete in an Olympics when she went to Grenoble, France, in 1968. Two other members of the Red Deer Club, Phyllis Fitzgerald Loewen and Kevin Sirois, just missed making the Canadian Olympic speed skating team that year.
In 1972, Kevin Sirois, became the first local Winter and Summer Olympian when he competed as a speed skater at the Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and was named a member of the Canadian cycling team for the Munich Summer Olympics. Tragically, he was killed by a car while training on Mother’s Day, 1972.
Meanwhile, Bruno Comis was named Red Deer’s Sportsman of the Year in 1960 and Coach of the Year in 1964. In 1968, he and Catherine moved to Calgary, but Bruno continued to volunteer with speed skating. In 1980, he was named to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and in 1987, was named to the Canadian Speed Skating Hall of Fame.
Bruno passed away in Calgary on December 14, 1996, just eight days before his 86th birthday. He had been predeceased by his beloved wife Catherine in 1990. They are interred together in Red Deer’s Alto Reste Cemetery.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a street, park or recreational/sports facility in Red Deer named in honour of Bruno Comis.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.