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Katherine Stewart-Jones: Bow Valley's Beijing Bound Athletes

“I think my best ever races were ones where I’m really able to focus, be in the zone, and not notice anything around me other than just skiing."

Katherine Stewart-Jones, cross-country skiing, top 15 world cup threat

Fresh off a breakthrough cross-country ski season, Katherine Stewart-Jones seems poised and confident heading into her first Winter Olympic Games.

After missing the cut to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, Stewart-Jones stepped up her game in preparation for Beijing. She is now Canada’s top women’s distance skier following a first-place finish at the Canmore Nordic Centre last month during Olympic Trials.

“I think the last few years of racing have definitely changed when it comes to training,” said Stewart-Jones, who is regularly finishing inside the world’s top 30 cross-country skiers at international races. 

“I moved to Canmore in 2019 and started working with a new coach, some new teammates, and just upped my training volume quite a bit. I made a lot of changes to my training that ended up paying off.”

One of the payoffs include an impressive top 20 finish at a 10km world cup race in Falun, Sweden in Jan. 2021, which the 26-year-old says was a pivotal moment in her career.

“That was definitely a huge result for me,” said Stewart-Jones, reflecting on a challenging year of COVID-19 restrictions, as well as the uncertainty surrounding races. “It was my first time in the top 20 and it’s given me a lot of confidence to know that I can go there, that I can be up there and even higher up on that list. I’m training hard to go [to Beijing] and also know that I’m able to compete, and not just take the one step of making the team.”

Stewart-Jones credits her improving results to an increased focus on technical improvement and hard training sessions, on top of incorporating some innovative tools into her program.

“I’ve never been the most technical skier and I was working with a coach who was very knowledgeable on that, so we’ve worked very hard on both my skate and classic techniques,” said Stewart-Jones. 

“I’ve done a lot of sessions on the rollerski treadmill, which is really cool because that allows you to see yourself live. There’s a camera and mirrors, so it’s great for making adjustments. That was definitely a huge part of it, as well as increasing my hours, focusing less on strength and other things that maybe didn’t matter as much.”

Describing her mindset when entering and racing against the world’s best cross-country skiers, Stewart-Jones aims to find that ever-elusive zone when competing at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

“I think my best ever races were ones where I’m really able to focus, be in the zone, and not notice anything around me other than just skiing,” said Stewart-Jones, joking that this is a hard mindset to get into. 

“Most of the time I’m focused as much as possible on the next thing in the race, like the next corner or the next turn, so that my mind doesn’t wander to other places. This way I can focus on being in the moment. It’s a constant work in progress and I think the mental side of sport – especially endurance sport – is so difficult to master. It’s really important.”

Stewart-Jones’ interest in mindset extends beyond the ski trails. She is currently working toward an undergraduate degree in psychology at Athabasca University (AU), while also mentoring kids through a non-profit organization called Classroom Champions.

“I’m taking one online course at a time through AU, so that’s something I get to focus on outside of skiing,” said Stewart-Jones. “With Classroom Champions, I’m paired with different classrooms across Canada. I get to update them on what I’m doing, film lessons for them, and give them challenges. It’s just a really great thing to give back to some kids and maybe teach them a thing or two.”

While her hope is that the kids gain confidence and knowledge from the experience, Stewart-Jones says she appreciates the perspective they offer on her own athletic career and Olympic aspirations.

“I definitely find it really fun talking to the kids, because they don’t usually have a clue about what elite sport is,” said Stewart-Jones. “Just hearing the things that they have to say can be really inspiring. For instance, when we do goal setting, the goals that they put down are just interesting. Seeing their excitement and innocence – especially when compared to someone who has been competing in the sport forever and sees it as normal – is really great. It’s so simple and I love that.”

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