by Saltwire Network Nova Scotia, Colin Hodd, February 18, 2021 (original article)
The soft swish of Susan McClure and John Cameron’s cross-country skis across packed snow were echoing in their daughter’s ears before she was old enough to walk.
“Even before I could ski … my parents would pull me around in a pulk,” says 17-year-old Fiona McClure. “And then as I learned to walk, I learned to ski.”
There are times, for most of us, when we begin choosing the world we want. McClure can remember one such turning point.
“When I was eight years old, my family lived in Chelsea, Quebec for six months and I got to ski in Gatineau Park,” she says. “That’s when I really started actually loving cross-country skiing for myself and not just being dragged out by my parents as much. I always liked it but that’s when it was more an independent thing.”
For six months, the 200 kilometres of trails in Gatineau Park belonged to McClure, in the way public spaces come to feel personal. She now skis out of the Halifax Nordic Ski Club and for the provincial ski team. Nova Scotia’s warmer, wetter winter climate turns McClure and her fellow cross-country skiers into snowchasers.
Fiona McClure has been passionate about cross-country skiing since she was a very young child. She has received many accolades in the sport throughout the years.
“It hasn’t been bad this year. I actually skied (recently) at Dollar Lake, which is near the airport, and then also skied at Smileys Provincial Park; they’ve had a bit of snow,” says McClure. “Basically, just wherever there’s snow in the province we try to get there on the weekends. The snow is so unpredictable … it’s a bit challenging sometimes not being able to ski all through the winter. In Halifax, at Brunello Golf Course, they make snow, artificially, and that’s the only way we can reliably ski through the winter.”
Like many athletes, McClure can be brutally honest in describing her own performance. It can be shocking to hear, but it forms the core paradox of sport. Each athlete or team competes hoping to win, knowing that ultimately each competition will only have one victor.
“I’m definitely very middle-of-the-pack at the national level,” says McClure. “I’ve gone to nationals and Easterns for the past several years. I’ve placed middle range. I primarily compete in skiing because it’s something that I really love doing. I still want to get better at skiing and become faster and stronger, but I want to do that for myself and because it’s fun and I have that personal drive. But I don’t feel like I’m ever going to be a world cup skier or anything.”
McClure has, however, received accolades from her coaches and peers. In 2019 and 2020 she was named the Junior Female Athlete of the Year by Cross Country Nova Scotia. She’s won the Bryan Scallion Award as the fastest female skier on aggregate at cross-country provincials twice (2018 and 2020).
Nobody has unlimited time, and so McClure’s passion for skiing has led her to some difficult choices.
“When I was younger, I did play a lot more sports. I had to choose what sport I loved the most and wanted to prioritize,” she says. “That was a bit of a challenge. I don’t play basketball anymore and I’m not as competitive of a runner as I once might have been. The provincial team just has a very positive culture, kind of like a family, so I wouldn’t want to ever give up the sport, because then you’re giving up the people as well.”
Fiona looks up the trail with a competitor close behind at the 2020 Nova Scotia provincial championships.
She hopes to continue her skiing career next fall at either Carleton, where her older sister Maggie skis, the University of Ottawa, or Guelph. McClure’s planned major is environmental science.
“I have always been more drawn to biology and chemistry, but then also the environmental aspect of it is something I’m really passionate about, so it kind of drew my interests together,” she says. “It does tie into skiing, because you need snow to ski and you need winter.”