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Northern B.C. woman represents Canada at world speed skating championship

Alison Desmarais from Vanderhoof took part in the competition held in Calgary last month

Alison Desmarais, who hails from Vanderhoof, is making waves in the world of speed skating.

With her recent participation in the 2024 World Single Distance Long Track Speed Skating Championships in Calgary, she has proven herself as a formidable athlete on the international stage. Desmarais represented Canada in the 1000m at the competition held Feb.15-18.

The event, known informally as the Olympics in non-Olympic years, sees the best 24 athletes in each distance compete on a world stage to earn their spot on the podium. This was Desmarais’ first ever World Championships and it was even more special for her as she got to skate in front of a home crowd.

“My final placing was 23rd out of 24th with a time of 1:17.78 (about 1.5 seconds slower than my personal best) so I was hoping for a little bit better, but I think nerves got the best of me that day,” Desmarais said.

“I am still incredibly proud of myself and enjoyed the electric atmosphere of representing Canada in front of a sold out crowd (5000 people) at the Calgary Olympic Oval.”

Born and raised in Vanderhoof, Desmarais’ journey into speed skating began at the age of seven. Inspired by her older sister Hilary’s interest in the sport, Desmarais’ family played a pivotal role in founding the Vanderhoof Clippers Speed Skating Club in 2004, then known as the Nechako Lake Speed Skating Club.

She skated from 2004 to 2015 with the Clippers and still considers it her home club, despite now living and training in Calgary.

“I am so grateful for the support of everyone in Vanderhoof and especially the people who are part of the Vanderhoof Clippers Speed Skating Club. I know I’m at pretty much the highest level of sport you can basically get, but my joy in sport still comes from sharing this joy with others who also like this sport,” she said.

Desmarais says her early years on the ice were marked by fun-filled practices alongside friends and family, laying the foundation for her future success.

“I don’t remember too much of my early years on ice but I loved each practice, because I was just out there having fun with my friends and family. I never really thought I’d be representing Canada at this level because competing internationally was not what I dreamt of as a little kid. Instead I’ve always said I will keep skating as long as I love it, and it is this love of the sport that motivates me to keep working and improving.”

By the time she was 16, her talent in the sport was clear and she went on to train professionally. But despite the talent, Dermarais says she would not have made it to this level without the overwhelming support of her family and friends, some good coaches, and great teammates along the way.

In 2018, Desmarais made her mark on the international scene, representing Canada in short track speed skating at three World Cup events. Despite initially focusing on short track, Alison’s transition to long track speed skating in 2020 marked a significant turning point in her career.

Desmarais’ shift to long track speed skating came with its own set of challenges, exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic. However, her determination and resilience propelled her forward, leading to her representation of Canada in Long Track World Cups in Calgary and Quebec City.

Making her international long track debut in 2022/2023, Desmarais quickly established herself as a middle-distance specialist, excelling in the 1000m and 1500m events. Her participation in the 2024 World Single Distance Long Track Speed Skating Championships in Calgary showcased her prowess on the world stage, despite facing stiff competition.

“In short track you race every distance, but in long track you specialize in the distances you’re good at, so I am a middle-distance skater and specialize in the 1000m and 1500m, which are 2.5 and 3.75 laps of the 400m oval respectively,” she said.

She is currently finishing up this season with two national competitions over the next two weekends (March 7-10 and March 14-17) also in Calgary to gain points and personal bests to set her up as strong as possible for next season.

Balancing her athletic pursuits with academics and work, Desmarais graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary in 2021. She currently works as a strength coach and personal trainer at Zeal Performance in Calgary, channeling her passion for sport and fitness into helping others achieve their goals.

With her sights set on the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in Italy, Desmarais continues to train rigorously in pursuit of her Olympic dream.

About the Author: Binny Paul

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