Retired Olympian helps Aboriginal youngsters take up cross-country skiing
Canadian cross-country skier Beckie Scott displays her gold medal she was awarded at a ceremony in Vancouver in this 2004 file photo. (Chris Bolin / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:13AM EST
Beckie Scott has recorded many achievements in different parts of the world, but the retired Olympic gold medallist reaps some of her greatest pride from her involvement in a program in small remote Aboriginal communities in Northern Alberta.
Scott has just begun her fourth season with Ski Fit North, a joint program operated by Cross Country Alberta and Cross Country Canada that gets impoverished First Nations youngsters started in the sport.
"It's, maybe, the most rewarding thing I've done post-ski career with my time," said Scott, who retired in 2006.
"I can not think of a better way than to spend a day up in some of the more remote Aboriginal and Metis communities that I've had an opportunity to spend time in with the kids there. It's a really magical experience to go there and spend a day with those kids and experience the fun and the joy of being outside and on skis and how much it brings to them.
"I take away the same amount (of joy), I think - I really love it."
Scott, 38, spent Tuesday in Conklin, Alta., located between Fort McMurray and Lac La Biche. She will move on to the Metis community of Kikino, Alta., on Wednesday before returning home to Canmore, Alta., that night.
Next week, she will host some of the youngsters from both communities in Canmore, and then visit more Northern Alberta locales throughout the winter.
Scott, a Vermilion, Alta., product, got involved with Ski Fit North after she was approached by the program's sponsor, the Canadian subsidiary of Norwegian energy giant Statoil. Last year, Ski Fit North reached out to more than 3,300 children aged six to 14 in 21 communities.
"Some of them, they're not even on the map," she said. "They're just community settlements with a school and some homes."
Scott was awarded a 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic gold medal in the five-kilometre cross-country women's pursuit after two Russians were disqualified for using a banned substance.
She also earned a silver medal in the 2006 Olympic women's team event in Turin.
Her other post-career accomplishments include serving on the International Olympic Committee's Athletes Commission, Canadian Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency and assisting UNICEF and Right to Play. She has also served on the boards of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic organizing committee and Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
Scott and organizers bring skis and poles for the youngsters to use. In some cases, communities have purchased their own equipment and cut trails to encourage regular participation in the sport. Scott said she has come to recognize that trails are key to wider involvement, and Ski Fit North is helping more communities develop them.
In addition to showing youngsters the basics, she delivers a positive message about what can be achieved in sport and life, and talks about proper foods and healthy eating habits.
"Our ultimate goal is to get these kids hooked on skiing, because we have winter six months of the year," she said. "There are great opportunities terrain-wise. It's something you can do out of the back door if you get a little bit of equipment. It's one of the most healthy outdoor winter activities there is.
"You can do it as a family. You can do it as a school. You can do it as an individual. It's really an all-around great physical activity to get involved in. Ultimately, if we got a great amount of kids and communities and schools taking up the sport and continuing on with the sport, that would be the most success we can hope for."
Scott cherishes a colourful wool sash that she received from one Metis community and fondly recalls times when she has been serenaded with traditional songs and dance by welcoming hosts. The positive experiences come in communities that are among the most impoverished in Canada.
"We know and we hear the stories," said Scott. "We can see the housing situation just as we drive into the communities. There's a lot of suffering and a lot of challenges, especially for these kids. That's what makes it particularly rewarding for myself, going into these communities knowing that these kids don't have a lot of opportunities given to them. They have a lot of difficulty in their lives. So spending a day with them that is a very enjoyable happy, healthy and activity-filled day is great all around."
Scott is also involved with a program called Heroes of Tomorrow, also co-ordinated by Cross Country Alberta, Cross Country Canada and Statoil Canada, whereby she visits Northern Alberta ski clubs and helps young athletes train for future success at higher levels.
Her ultimate message to the kids that she helps?
"Do not give up on the sport," she said. "It's a long haul sometimes, and you have to be patient -- but it's worth it."