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Banff speed skater sprints to podiums at youth championships

“I think I’ve progressed a lot throughout the year and I feel like it was a good way to end my season."

SASKATOON – Watch out, Connor Howe, the competition for top Banff Canmore Speedskating athlete just heated up.

Representing Alberta, local speed skaters Lily Fochuk and Poppy Wheelhouse carved up the ice at the 2023 Canadian Youth Short Track Championships West in Saskatoon, Sask. on March 25-26.

However, this year, Fochuk made a big impression on the western Canadian field, planting herself on the podium three times. She won two silvers in the 400-metre and 800m races and finished first overall in the 1,000m female open in impressive fashion.

“I felt like I did exactly how I wanted to do and I’m happy how I did,” said Fochuk, 14. “I think I’ve progressed a lot throughout the year and I feel like it was a good way to end my season. It was a lot of fun.”

Competing on a 111m oval, usually on the surface of a hockey rink, short track racing is fast and furious, especially for a sprinting specialist like Fochuk.

In the 400m, Fochuk finished at a time of 41.85, and in the 800m, Fochuk narrowly missed the top spot by 0.12.

In both races, the gold medallist was Alberta’s Maxine Volstad.

However, in the 1,000m open, Fochuk finally topped her fellow Albertan, winning the longer race at a time of 1:51.44 – nearly two seconds faster than second place Mia Tetrault of Manitoba.

“It was quite competitive. I was skating with the girls I had skated with before, so I was trying to make myself better and beat them and create new competition for myself,” said Fochuk. “I enjoy sprints the most and I enjoy going off the start really hard and doing the race really fast and then it’s over.”

The national-level medals added to Fochuk’s already impressive list of awards this year, which includes a 500m bronze medal at her first Canadian Youth Long Track Championships in Fort St. John, B.C. last February.

Taking place on a 400m oval, Fochuk and Alberta’s female team pursuit also claimed second place.

As she ends her youth career, next season will step up to U14 for Fochuk, with new races with more travel involved.

For Wheelhouse, the Saskatoon nationals were her first shot at national level competition as a U11.

Competing in the 1,500m, 800m, and 400m for U11, and the 1,000m female open, Wheelhouse felt she was at her strongest in the 400m. She will have two more years to work her way up the ranks as a youth.

This season, the local speed skating club awarded Wheelhouse with its most improved athlete award.

“For the start of the year, I know that I’ve improved and my times have gotten way faster and my technique and I feel like that’s what the coaches were looking for and that’s what they saw,” said Wheelhouse.

Fochuk won back-to-back competitive skater of the year at the club.

“I like the award – it has a lot of cool names on it, so I’m glad my name is on that award now, twice,” said Fochuk. “I think I enjoy having that award and it’s something I’m proud of.”

One name on the award is a familiar one to the Bow Valley – Connor Howe, a national team skater and world cup gold medallist.

Both girls said they look up to the 22-year-old Olympian from Canmore, who still skates with the team practices a few times a year.

“Our speed skating club is small and it’s impressive that someone from our club made it to the national team,” said Wheelhouse.

Next year, the Alberta Winter Games return to Grande Prairie. It’s a goal for Fochuk and Wheelhouse to compete at the provinicial championships. 

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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