Nick Lees: Olympian’s skiing lessons pure gold for First Nations students

Don Patterson and Beckie Scott, Canada's gold medal winning cross-country skiing Olympian, gave students at the Enoch Band's Kitaskinaw School their first cross-country ski lesson just days before Christmas.

Don Patterson and Beckie Scott, Canada’s gold medal winning cross-country skiing Olympian, gave students at the Enoch Band’s Kitaskinaw School their first cross-country ski lesson just days before Christmas. NICK LEES / POSTMEDIA

An early Christmas present for the youngsters at the Enoch Band’s Kitaskinaw School came in the form of a golden substitute teacher.

The instructor was Beckie Scott, winner of a cross-country ski gold medal in the Salt Lake winter Olympics in 2002.

“She’s a good teacher,” said Jordayna Howse, 10, lying on her back on the school’s soccer field last week after one of many falls during her first cross-country ski lesson.

“I can skate well and think I will do well in future at cross-country skiing.”

Scott, who became the first Canadian and first North American to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, also won a silver medal in the 2006 Turin Olympics.

She has served as the program director for Ski Fit North Alberta for the last seven years and is passing on her passion for skiing to Alberta First Nations and Métis children and youth.

“I love my job and feel a sense of accomplishment when I see children coming comfortably down hills on skis,” she says.

“They have big smiles on their faces and often yell excitedly. It’s a great workout without being perceived as exercise. The enjoyment of the sport can last a lifetime.”

Before they donned skis, Scott spoke to students of the benefits of eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and drinking lots of water.

“One soda drink will have as much as nine tea teaspoons of sugar in it,” she said. “Who will sign up for the one-week water-only drinking challenge and see how much better they feel at the end of the week?”

Lots of hands shot up.

Helping Scott, who grew up in Vermilion, is Ski Fit’s community outreach leader Les Parsons, 56, a U of A phys-ed grad whose vocal abilities approach those of a sergeant-major.

Parsons, whose instructions were heard by kids at the other end of the soccer pitch, says he often feels he’s the big brother Scott never had.

“I’ve known Beckie since she was 14,” says Parsons, a former Ironman triathlete, northern river guide and former head coach of Quebec’s Club Nordique, Edmonton Nordic, Augustana Vikings and Camrose Ski Club.

“Beckie is an ethical old soul and my hero because she champions causes and loves to help people, such as The Right to Play and UNICEF.”

Parsons, Scott’s personal club coach who travelled to three Olympics, also trained Alex Harvey, the 2011 world champion gold medallist.

“This cross-county Ski Fit initiative is a good news story,” he says. “It gets us away from the doom and gloom about the aboriginal situation. It’s part of reconciliation. We need to get kids back on the land and enjoying healthy outdoors exercise.”

Parsons says Don Patterson was the man behind getting Kitaskinaw students skiing, by inviting Ski Fit to the school on Edmonton’s western outskirts.

Parsons calls Patterson “the mover and shaker who got everyone involved,” including Ski Fit, which enjoys stellar sponsorship from Atco Gas.

Patterson, a former lawyer and now manager and commercial director of a Royal LePage office, brought a BMX pump track, bicycles and helmets to the Enoch school in October.

He has just received approval, through Canadian Tire’s caring Jump Start program, to acquire 35 sets of skis and 50 pairs of boots for Enoch students.

“Starting in January, the kids will be skiing as part of the school’s phys-ed program and will be led by dynamic teacher Tammy Pierson,” Patterson says.

“Just like the bike program, students will be able to sign out equipment after school and on weekends.”

He says he’s looking forward to coaching students on Saturdays.

“I’m told several students already show strong skiing abilities and by developing good technique, they might enjoy racing and do well,” he says.

While racers might be found, Patterson says his philosophy is one of inclusion, where every kid has the opportunity to be involved in healthy, fun exercise.

“What I find exciting is the potential to create similar ski and bike programs in other indigenous communities,” he says.

“There are discussions with Kisipatnahk School at Louis Bull Cree reserve, schools in the Fort McMurray area and Fort William First Nation in Ontario.”

 

Article Cource: Edmonton Journal


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