by Colin Hodd, Saltwire, March 18, 2021
Even for young people, like 16-year-old provincial cross-country skier Grace McIntyre, sport can be a serious pursuit.
There’s training, competition, injury, recovery, and responsibility. But before all that, at the foundations, there is fun.
“Martock, it’s a pretty big place when you’re a little kid,” says McIntyre. “There’s this massive hill that comes down into a big, open bowl. Every morning we used to play this game. It was just like a big tag game where all the coaches would play. One of my biggest memories is just skiing down into that bowl, skiing into a massive group of kids and just playing.”
Maybe those early tag games were what gave McIntyre her love for skate-skiing, the more free-flowing of the two disciplines. McIntyre started skiing when she was four years old. Her father Eric got into skiing in his late 20s, and it became a family activity.
She began taking lessons from Nancy Munro. And then, on her 12th birthday, Munro passed on a message from Daniel Murray, head coach of the provincial team for Cross Country Nova Scotia, that introduced McIntyre to the wider skiing world.
“It was an email inviting me to join the provincial team. To be honest, I didn’t really know we had one for skiing. As far as I was concerned it was just a Saturday morning club activity,” says McIntyre. “Once that was introduced to me and I went to the first camp, and I met some other kids that were there that were older than me that I’d seen around in programs, I was like, ‘Oh, OK, this is actually a thing; it’s real.’”
The Nova Scotia provincial ski team is relatively small, and ski training can be a solitary activity. Before joining the ski team McIntyre was a swimmer, and paddled with the Waverly-based Cheema Aquatic Club. Both those activities were built on scheduled workouts with big training groups. The challenge of training in a different environment was initially daunting.
“I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to train on my own. To have that responsibility to make your own schedule, and you’re the only one that you’re doing it for, it adds a different mindset to it and a little bit more pressure,” she says. “It really teaches you how to be independent in a lot of things, not just training.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, McIntyre and her teammates had to adapt and find other ways to train. The provincial team orchestrated weekly Zoom workouts, led by a different team member each week.
With the team scattered across Nova Scotian – McIntyre in Fall River, teammates in the Valley and a coach in Cape Breton – these exercises were a way to connect. But endless online interaction can be draining. So, McIntyre and a teammate, Fiona McClure, decided to try something different.
“We were kind of getting bored of just going and running on the street and then coming back and sitting in front of the computer and doing the workout,” says McIntyre. “So, we both decided that we’d try out some of the Zumba dancing and the online dance class stuff. It’s really fun. It’s a really great way to get your blood flowing. It makes you really motivated and pumped up. That’s definitely something that helped crack the boredom of trying to work out in quarantine and making it fun.”
Don’t mistake McIntyre’s sense of fun for a lack of hard work. This is a skier whose personal favourite accomplishment involves an impromptu 50K ski race in February of 2020.
“We ski a lot in New Brunswick, and I was out there with one of my friends for a loppet,” says McIntyre. “I was gonna race a shorter distance. I was on the way there, and she called me and she was like, ‘Hey, do you want to race the 50K with me?’ which is pretty insane but that’s very in her realm of doing stuff. And I just said yes.”
The duo finished second together in the informal ski competition.
McIntyre’s first Canada Games, Red Deer in 2019, gave her a taste for big-stage competition with a small, close-knit team. Her mom, Tara, served as team manager and shared the trip.
“That was never in my realm of thought that I would be able to go to Canada Games,” she says. “Since we were so small, it was almost like travelling with your family and just going and doing something you love.”
Now in Grade 11, McIntrye is far from done. She and McClure are coaching as a tandem, giving them a new appreciation for the nuances of the sport. She’s continuing to train, hoping for another shot at Canada Games in 2022.
“I’ll be first year university then. I’d like to go to a university with a ski team. Not the main factor, but definitely a factor that I’d like to consider, so I’ll probably go out of province for school. I definitely plan to keep racing and keep skiing and I look forward to that.”
>The Laker News | Head Coach Daniel Murray
>Saltwire NS | Provincial Team Athlete, McClure
>Saltwire NS | Provincial Team Athlete, Doyon
>Provincial Cross Country Ski Team | Webpage