Full speed ahead for Saanich Peninsula speed skating club

Small club welcomes new skaters as coaches work with athletes to get them ready for the BC Winter Games.

Speed skaters Peyton Stonehouse-Smith

Speed skating isn’t a high profile sport on the Saanich Peninsula but there has been an active club here since around 2005 — and it’s producing a collection of athletes looking forward to the 2016 BC Winter Games.

There are around five skaters, all in their early teens, who have been working hard to qualify for the Winter Games this February 25 to 28 in Penticton. Coach Murray Byers says there are four girls and one boy eligible to go to the Games, but will face a little competition from the Esquimalt speed skating club.

Esquimalt and the Saanich Peninsula are the Island’s only two clubs and share a common history. The local group, said Byers, broke off from Esquimalt when they had enough participants from the Saanich Peninsula to make a go of it. The club was led by Ian and Brenda Hennigar, national-level coaches and skaters, who have since stepped back from   the club but leaving behind a core of coaches and volunteers able to keep the group moving forward.

“Ian and Brenda are excellent teachers,” he said.

The Peninsula group meets twice a week  at Panorama Recreation Centre Arena B on Monday and Wednesday evenings and provides coaching and ice time for short track speed skating. Byers said they do offer some training for long track skating, but the focus is on individual and four-member short track events.

The club takes part in two to three meets each season, most of which take place on the mainland. Then, there’s the Winter Games, which provides their younger skaters with the chance to experience a bigger athletic event.

A highly technical sport, Byers admitted most people see little of it until the winter Olympics or world championships. However, the club gets skaters as young as seven and up to adult-age, out to train. For some, it’s for fun and fitness and for others it’s about the competition. Getting some of their skaters to Penticton in February is one of the club’s goals this season, Byers said.

During the sessions, skaters don helmets and pads and a series of mats go up along the boards of the arena — safety first said volunteer and skater parent Dwayne Smith. He said they get new people out mainly by word of mouth. Most new participants know how to skate — mostly through hockey and figure skating — and get to learn new skills, such as how to take corners at higher speeds more safely.

“It doesn’t take too long,” he said, “and they get going pretty fast.”

Byers added learning to fall properly is also taught to the skaters — as it will happen on occasion.

This season, with the focus on reaching the Winter Games, Byers said the skaters are doing some dryland training as well to increase their fitness level.

Byers said the group of around 16 skaters or so is active and enjoy their time on the ice.

“The kids really push each other,” he said.

The Saanich Peninsula speed skating club takes newcomers at any time. It costs $20 per session, which covers insurance costs, and the club has the skates and other gear needed to get started. On Mondays, the group is on the ice from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 6:20 to 7:20 p.m.