FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club was gearing up for an interclub competition on October 30th, but low registration numbers and ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19 guidelines have forced the event to be cancelled.

Skating coach Katharine North says the event usually gathered up to 60 athletes from all over northern BC, northern Alberta, and even south of Prince George, with most trying to put in times to qualify for the BC Winter Games.

“We were expecting that we might have skaters from a bit further away this time because it was also going to be a competition where skaters could get the times they needed to qualify for BC Winter Games in Zone 8. We had thought there was potential that it would be a bigger event despite it being in the middle of COVID-19,” said North, who added that Fort St. John wasn’t the only place struggling to manage changing guidelines.

“Even down in Calgary at the [Olympic] Oval, they were really on tenderhooks with every single event because they just don’t know if the events are going to get shut down. It’s been pretty touch-and-go in Calgary for the last little while.”

North says it’s tough balancing the needs of the young skaters who are patiently waiting for an opportunity to compete and the risk of an event turning into a “super-spreader.”

“I’m quite sad, disappointed that we can’t get these younger skaters out and into a competition. We as a club just felt that it was a risk, and we didn’t want to become an event that was a super-spreader.”

Despite the event being cancelled, North says they do have events coming up in the future for their skaters, and she says everyone’s just happy to be on the ice training this year.

“We’ll certainly set up some in-practise racing for them, but it won’t be the same as competing with skaters coming in.”

The adult recreational group has started holding practise sessions this week, something that the club has been building over the last few years before COVID-19.

“It was really beginning to grow in the three years before COVID-19 hit. We had a lot of strong members who were really enthusiastic about getting on the ice and spreading the word. This is our first group getting back together again, and it looks like we have about 10 skaters.”

North says there are people trying speed skating for the first time, and there are some with experience, including one skater returning to the sport after 20 years.

“He was out with his skates that he used to use back when he was a teenager. When he got out, I asked him how it felt. He said, ‘it’s just like riding a bike.’ It’s so great to be out and it’s a social time. We like to see smiles, and we just like to introduce them to the joy of speed skating.”

North says the club is keeping the registration window open until around January, and most equipment — including skates — is available to rent.

“The only thing that’s required is to have some skates and some cut-proof socks.”

For more information on the adult recreational speed skating group, check out the Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club on Facebook.