Winnipegger Lindsey Kent is a lot like the rest of her teammates on the national long-track speedskating squad. The pandemic has played havoc with everyone's life.
She’s endured major upheaval of the training program -- brought on by a long-term mechanical failure at the Olympic Oval -- and the likely disintegration of the 2020-21 competitive season, but there will be one major bright spot this spring.
She’s on schedule to graduate from the University of Calgary with a civil engineering degree.
Manitoba content on national long-track speedskating team:Click to Expand
• Tyson Langelaar, Winnipeg, 21, senior team
• Heather McLean, Winnipeg, 27, senior team
• Lindsey Kent, Winnipeg, 24, nextgen team
• Jess Neufeld, Winnipeg, 27, nextgen team
• Alexa Scott, Clandeboye, 19, nextgen team
Kent, 24, has been chipping away at her education since moving from Winnipeg to Calgary six years ago, including the last four as a member of the national team. She's now only three classes away from completing her academic work.
The fact that Kent balances a demanding classroom workload with the kind of training and competition required by an elite athlete is a surprise to many. Is she ever called crazy for doing it?
"Most people do, especially people in engineering because they know what classes we're in," said Kent over the telephone earlier this week. "But I think doing less classes definitely helps. Some of the hardest things are not having a lot of flexibility with when the classes are available for my training schedule.
"Having the classes online this year is actually allowed me to take a class that I wouldn't normally be able to attend because our training is regularly like nine to 11 in the morning and that's also when a lot of classes are offered."
This week, there was some relief in the training department. While the team enjoyed a two-week training camp at a track in Fort St. John, B.C., in November, and some skaters explored frozen mountain lakes as a place to skate, proper workouts on a long track were impossible until the Canada Winter Games long-track venue in Red Deer, Alta., was reopened this week.
Despite a province-wide shutdown of all sports, national teams have an exemption to train if they can find adequate facilities.
"The Calgary oval has been closed in September (due to a failure of the ice plant) and they're confident now that they won't be able to put ice in until May," said Kent, a mid- to long-distance skater whose best event is the 3,000 metres. "So, there definitely won't be any races at the oval.
"And then, I don't know if they'll be able to do so non-national level competitions because normally we would have Canada Cups but they would have to be able to allow out of province athletes to do that and that's just out of the question at this point."
For now, the skaters will be driving from their Calgary base to Red Deer, which is 90 minutes away. For athletes such as Kent and Clandeboye's Alexa Scott, who are members of Team Canada's nextgen squad, that may be as good as it gets with no international competitions scheduled.
For senior team skaters Tyson Langelaar and Heather McLean, both of Winnipeg, the outlook is a little brighter. The world championships and two World Cup events are tentatively booked for February in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
"I was looking to have a good racing season as preparation for trying out for the Olympics," said Kent. "The Olympics are still coming up (in 2022 in Beijing) but I haven't been able to have the year to really put myself in a position to even know if what I'm doing is helping my racing at all. As the fall has gone on, it's definitely gotten harder to stay focused."
Scott, 19, isn't attending school this season.
She decided to spend her first full season on the national team, after a stellar junior career that culminated in a bronze overall finish at the 2019 world junior championships, focused on training and racing.
"Now we can skate in Red Deer and it's like a little victory," said Scott. "We're gonna start going out there three days a week for foreseeable future."
Training in central Alberta evokes great memories for Scott, who won three gold medals on the same track in 2019.
"It's really nice," said Scott. "It's the same venue as Canada Winter Games so obviously, I like that venue. Good memories. It's still super nice mild weather out here in Alberta so fingers crossed it won't change."
Her master plan involves training for a wide range of races. Next year, she'll enroll in science at the University of Calgary, a precursor to eventually pursuing a medical degree much like former national team hockey player Haley Wickenheiser.
"The 1,000 and 1,500 are still my best distances but a big priority of mine is to continue to train for the all-around and to be able to do every distance from the 500 (metres) to the five K," said Scott. "That's was my big goal when I moved out here...
"I know Lindsey's juggling a big school semester and I don't have that so driving to Red Deer is fine with me and then I have time to go prioritize baking or cooking or whatever."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.