Fairground’s Rachel Thurston likes skating, and likes skating fast even more.
“I like racing,” said Thurston, a 9-year-old student at Langton’s Sacred Heart School. “I just like going fast – it’s the reason I wanted to do it. Speed skating’s faster (than figure skating), plus it’s really fun.”
Short-track speed skating can be electrifying for both spectators and the racers, who need strong start-speed, quick and smooth cross-overs, endurance, and flat out straightaway speed in short-track distances of 100m, 200m and 500m. Falls are common.
“They don’t always fall when I’m in races, but most of them do,” said Rachel, who was lucky – and skilled – enough to avoid any spills during her 2012-13 season. “Usually you fall because of the holes or bumps (in the ice).”
“She’s been lucky, she never falls,” noted her mother, Annie Thurston.
“She never fell this year,” nodded her father, Dave Thurston.
Two weekends ago, she placed second in Burlington. She battled sickness last weekend in Oakville (March 2-3) to win an overall bronze medal at the 2013 Ontario Provincial Short Track Age Class Championships in her 10-skater, 8-year-old girls age bracket.
“We got there (Oakville) and everything was good,” said Dave. “She woke up Saturday with a little bit of stomach flu.”
Her warm-ups were scheduled to start at 8 a.m. that morning and she had to be at the arena to avoid disqualification.
“We went to the arena planning to tell the (Kitchener-Waterloo Cobras) coach she was not going to race Saturday. Being Rachel, and loving skating, she said she wanted to try it. She went out and did fine, but was sick to her stomach between races.”
Rachel finished fourth on the first day, and raced in a total of eight events over two days. The longer short-track races, 500m, are usually her best events, but her best finish in Oakville was second in the 100m.
“Some people get really, really tired when they do that (500m), but I like to go really fast – and I do go fast a lot – and they go slower when I try to go faster and pass them.
“It’s not that hard because you can pass on the in or outside of them. I usually do my passing on the corners because if they stay too close to the pucks they’ll go ‘out’ because they can’t turn as fast and you just pass ‘in.’ Or if they stay out at first and then they cut in, you just go around them. I usually start on the inside and try to do as many cross-overs as I can.
“Sometimes I get passed, but not usually.”
Blocking someone who is trying to pass is not allowed.
“You’ll be disqualified, so you can’t block them. You have to try to go as fast as you can so they don’t pass you.”
On Sunday she was feeling better, said Dave.
“Rachel went out and gave it her all and ended up finishing her first provincials with a bronze medal. We were very proud of her, and she was very proud to finish the meet she has been working for all year. Third place was awesome.”
She still has two more years of eligibility at the provincial level before the door opens to Canadians, which have a minimum age of 11 and a required qualifying time.
“She’s not far off that time now,” Dave noted, “and it’s only her second full year of racing at the provincial level.”
Rachel, now 9, has been involved in three types of skating starting with public skates with her father and with her elementary school.
She went on to join the Langton Skating Club where she further developed her skating skills. In her second year at the club, Rachel won the Western Ontario Section BMO CanSkater of the Year, recognizing her commitment to the sport of skating, her enthusiasm, spirit and talent.
A well-rounded athlete, Rachel has also tried soccer, baseball, swimming, and gymnastics. She still does karate with Martial Arts Canada. She gave hockey a try, but it wasn’t fast enough for her.
She was introduced to speed skating while watching the 2010 Winter Olympics on TV.
“She saw Christine Nesbitt, an Olympic gold medalist, skating in the gold medal race,” said Dave, “and said to me that was what she wanted to do – she wanted to go fast.”
London had the closest speed skating program.
“So we went to London twice a week, plus figure skating twice a week in Langton. Rachel loves the ice and she would do anything to be skating every day if she could.”
She placed third in her age category/time class at her first-ever speed skating competition in Milton.
Fast-forward to 2012-13, and Rachel, now 9, is no longer figure skating, but continues to improve in speed skating. In five meets this season she has placed first and second overall, and set new personal bests almost every time.
She also changed clubs switching to the Kitchener-Waterloo Cobras where she trains three times a week.
“At practice you just skate and practice your cross-overs,” said Rachel. “When you do warm-ups at competition, you do your starts. So you go to the middle of the ice and do it. Then you just go fast as you can to do cross-overs.”
Rachel will continue training in Kitchener until the end of March, then moves into the off-season. She plans to add in-line skating to her sports repertoire.
“I am very proud of her for continuing on with what she truly loves to do,” Dave summed up.