Despite June’s sunny disposition, winter is very much already here for those looking to be the best in the world. An athlete’s life does not follow the seasons, it follows training cycles, making summer just another date on the calendar.
“We’re always chasing the snow,” said one of the founding members of the Canadian Cowboys Jan Hudec, a world silver medallist alpine skiier.
For many, the summer means sipping drinks with friends on the patio. For athletes like Hudec, it means getting creative or getting out of Dodge. For example, the alpine World Cup season begins in October. With the last race of the season in March, making for about six months of racing in any given season.
And that’s just competition.
The rest of the year (the off-season) is when athletes continue to grind out the base-training they need to prepare their bodies for the upcoming punishment that is getting ready for the Olympic Games. This means finding the right place, or the means, to get quality work done.
“My breaks from winter are a few weeks here and there,” said Hudec. “Even in the summer we’re chasing snow in South America, in Switzerland, on the glaciers … For me, winter never sleeps.”
This type of thinking is synonymous for any athlete seeking success no matter the season. London 2012 Flag Bearer, gold medallist and four-time Olympian Simon Whitfield, affectionately calls this ‘chopping wood and carrying water’… meaning: always doing the work and forgetting what your friends are doing on the patio.
“Our life is always in snow. We’re always in the winter season.”
“You give up a lot,” said two-time Olympic medallist distance swimmer Ryan Cochrane en route to London 2012. At the beginning of the Olympic year he was logging 80-100km per week in the pool. “You give up a lot socially, you give up a lot when it comes to school. But, the rhythm comes from thousands and thousands of kilometres that you swim … It’s a great feeling to know your body has overcome such adversity and you are so much better for it.”
It’s an all-consuming mindset that knows no season.
“It is daunting,” said Cochrane. “But it’s an Olympic Games and when you get to that level you can see amazing things from all kinds of athletes. I just expect that from myself. It’s going to be that much pain, but if you want to win an Olympic medal, it’s what it takes.”
Whatever the sport, training for the Games means putting in the work all year long, no matter where you are or what the weather is doing outside. For some it means bringing the competition environment to them – saunas, treadmills, bike rollers, trampolines or the ever-present arena, for example.
For Travis Gerrits, an up-and-coming aerialist and world silver medallist from Milton, ON, it’s the water. So focused on the task at hand, he brings his daily routine to whatever the circumstance and, like a true Canadian, will shiver if he has to.
In the summer, he will jump at a water facility in Quebec through the fall until he wakes up in the morning to a layer of ice on his car, a layer of ice on the ramp and ultimately freezing cold water.
Sure, the weather changes, but his mindset doesn’t.
In the sliding sports, there is also very little love in the summer months. Despite the incredible facilities in Canada, it’s hard to make an ice track in the throes of July. So, innovation must ensue.
“We spend a lot of time in the summers doing flat ice training,” said two-time world championship medallist and Olympic luger Sam Edney. “Basically we’re paddling and pulling starts on flat ice which allows us to really focus on technique, not having to worry about going down the hill on an actual luge run. We do a lot of technical blocks, or camps where we’re on flat ice and it’s basically aimed at perfecting or getting as close to perfection in the technical side of the start.”
Canadians are blessed with four distinct seasons. We pull out patio furniture in May, we grab our parkas for Halloween and we’re not afraid to wear long underwear to the office in February. During the summer months, we sweat it out with the best of them.
Canadian athletes, however, have two distinct seasons: Competition and training. In less than nine months from now, when this country’s athletes and fans join in the crux of a Russian winter, we will be thankful for the weather and the mindset our athletes carry with them … all year long.
“Our life is always in snow,” said Canadian Cowboy Manny Osborne-Paradis, a nine-time World Cup medallist and two time Olympian. “We’re always in the winter season.”