FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club is trying to load as many competitions in the front of the season, in case more restrictions come down and to make up for lost opportunities to compete last year.

The first opportunity for skaters to compete will be at the end of September when the Olympic Oval in Calgary hosts the Fall Classic from September 24th to 26th.

Richard Stickel coaches just about every age group, and he says competition is crucial for an athlete’s development.

“Competing and getting experience is really important. We missed a year of that development for some of our skaters, so we’re going to try to catch up where we can,” said Stickel, who has been involved with the Elks Speed Skating Club for over 20 years. “We’re able to do more than we were last year at this point, which is really nice. We’re able to train a little bit more intently this year, but everything is still up in the air.”

Stickel says the older skaters and the more competitive ones train as many as five days a week, while even the younger athletes train three to four times a week.

The coaches want to make up for lost time, but they still have to manage the athletes’ fitness and recovery. After all, speed skating is all about technique. Broken form and tired legs won’t make for faster times.

“This is the beginning of the year, and of course some of them have been doing quite a bit of dryland [training], but my job is to ensure that they can skate and that their technique doesn’t start to break down. Perfect practise makes perfect, so you make sure that you don’t break them down too much, you keep increasing their fitness as the season goes on.”

Over the years, the Elks have developed a solid relationship with the Calgary Oval Program. Stickel says Fort St. John has affiliated itself as much as possible to provide a feeder system into the Calgary program.

“Until last year, we’ve had one or two coaches a year come up and do a weekend of clinics with us. The whole idea was to try and be a bit of a feeder system. We would look at what they needed, what the weaknesses were, and we worked to fix those early on.”

With skaters like Denny Morrison, a four-time Olympian and one of Canada’s most decorated long track speed skaters coming from Fort St. John, Stickel says it’s fun to watch athletes progress from recreational athletes to the highest level of competition.

For anyone interested in learning more about speed skating, Stickel says an adult recreational group will be formed in October, with the possibility of signing up for a few days with a limited supply of skates.

Check out the club’s Facebook page for more information.