Western takes to the community ice

From Geography and Dentistry to Audiology, the Research Park and even members of the Mustangs rowing team, Western paints the London Speed Skating Club purple.

Political Science professor Cristine de Clercy, a coach with the club since moving to London in 2006, said teaching a new generation about the sport she loves has been rewarding.

“It’s a lot of work, teaching all day and then going and coaching. But many hands make light work when everybody takes a little slice,” said de Clercy, who has held provincial and Canadian championship titles in outdoor and indoor distances, and competed regularly at regional, national and international meets.

hird-year Health Sciences student Aloka Wijesooriya, right, shares some advice with her skating class.

Third-year Health Sciences student Aloka Wijesooriya, right, shares some advice with her skating class.

Many are not aware London has a speed skating club – celebrating its 30th anniversary, in fact. Roughly half the club member’s families work at Western.

Even students are finding ways to give back to their new home.

Aloka Wijesooriya, a third-year Health Sciences student, has been an instructor at the club since she arrived from Iqaluit, Nunavut, where she was a competitive skater.

“My coach in Iqaluit knew the previous president with the London Speed Skating Club and there was a connection there, so I was introduced to the club in my first year. It helped me choose Western for my schooling,” she said.

Despite a hectic school schedule, Wijesooriya always finds time to strap on the skates and be with the children, who practice at the Western Fair Sports Complex, which has the needed ice size for the sport.

“I started speed skating when I was 10 years old and started coaching alongside my competitive skating,” she said. “It is just a love for the sport. Being able to teach other skaters, who are just starting to learn about speed skating, is the reason why I’m still coaching.

“When we learn simple skills, like straightaways or the corners, it brings me back to when I started skating. It’s a wonderful satisfaction for me that I’m actually making a difference with the skaters. Once class is over, and I see they’ve learned some skills, it keeps me so motivated to keep coming back each week.”

de Clercy, who shares the youth coaching responsibilities with Wijesooriya, said while they’re not in the business of training high-performance athletes, the club has produced a number of top skaters, including Christine Nesbitt, Jacob McKenzie, Erin Copeland and Gerrit Bos.

Currently at 30 members, de Clercy would love to see membership grow to around 50, which would help offset the growing costs of ice time and insurance.

“What is attractive about the club is we have small classes. You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s easier to teach children how to skate on these skates as opposed to hockey skates; they are much more stable,” de Clercy said.

“I think, increasingly, many parents who want their kids to pick up a winter sport, or get them on skates, are thinking about speed skating because there is a lower incident of concussion, there are later practices and less cost. One of the things I notice is many of the kids who try speed skating really enjoy it.”

For Wijesooriya, the extra plus is the friendships that are made, outside the students and professors she sees on a daily basis.

“When I’m on campus, you’re always in that ‘Western bubble’ people talk about. But when I go off campus to coach, it’s allowing me to see the community,” she said. “I’m able to interact with other community members, and while the skaters themselves have a lot of parents who work at Western, other skaters’ parents don’t, so you get the sense that this is a real community club, and that’s the part that I really like.”