Life in speed skating celebrated

The Peninsula’s Ian Hennigar honoured as a coach, builder of the sport

Ian Hennigar

Local speed skaters have Ian Hennigar to thank for having a place to learn the sport and hone their skills.

Hennigar and his wife Brenda built the Saanich Peninsula Speed Skating Club after coming to the area from Esquimalt. But more than that, the pair grew up in the sport and have been sharing their expertise and enthusiasm for it ever since.

That’s why, during a recent World Cup speed skating event in Calgary at the end of November, Hennigar was recognized by the President of Speed Skating Canada for his contributions to the sport.

Hennigar, who up until recently was the manager of the Panorama Recreation Centre, has cancer. While he is undergoing treatment, including a drug trial program to fight the disease, Hennigar is facing a terminal diagnosis.

Not wanting his lifetime of work within the sport to go unrecognized, Speed Skating Canada invited some of the athletes, coaches and administrators he worked with over  the years, to a ceremony and social evening in Calgary.

“We were all back together in Calgary, he said in an interview, noting that it was Brenda who kept him in the dark about the event and the award — until he almost backed out of taking the trip.

But he relented when Brenda said there would be a lot of people there specifically to see him. Seventy-five guests flew in from across North America and one came from China. More than 100 letters from athletes were presented, sharing stories of his positive impact on their lives in and out of sport. One story was told by PGA Tour champion and former speed skater Ian Leggett, who Hennigar worked with out in Ontario.

“In the end, I was pleased to see a group of people, many of whom go back with me 40 years.”

Hennigar grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario. And like many who got into speed skating, it was friends who urged him to try it back in around 1969. He loved it and quickly moved up to competitive levels. In fact, he skated against Canadian Olympian and medalist Gaétan Boucher — but never quite beat him.

After breaking an ankle at 18, Hennigar said he still wanted to be involved in the sport and became a coach. By age 21, he had been asked to work at a high level throughout the region.

“A lot of the people I worked with would go on to win national and international medals,” he said.

It was during that early time as a coach that he met Brenda, herself a national-level skater. They moved to Vancouver Island, where Brenda’s dad ran the Esquimalt club. By 2004, they had come to the Saanich Peninsula and started the local speed skating club.

“It has been fun to watch the kids grow into the sport,” he said.

Hennigar also was coach to Hamish Black, who was living on the Peninsula in 2013. Black went to Hennigar to learn and is currently living and skating in Calgary, competing at a high level and with his eye on skating at the Olympics.

Hennigar has taken a step back from the local speed skating club, as well as from Panorama, as he battles cancer. He remains positive, yet realistic and said he’s pleased to have made the trip to Calgary.

“You don’t really think of the impact you have on people,” he said. “I did things because they were worth doing.”