Sylvan Lake attracts 43 skaters
by Treena Mielke (Eckville Echo)
Their beards had turned to icicles, their eyebrows were frosty, and snow clung to their faces and tuques, but still they persevered. And finally, they skated under the replica of the bridge with the bold letters Bartlehiem Ė a familiar signpost for skaters in Holland during the 11 City Tour Ė and on to the finish line. Some waved their arms in triumph, and some didnít. But one can be sure all of them were elated to cross the finish line.
A total of 43 skaters set off at 11 a.m. Saturday to participate in the 50-kilometre race (25 km for women) held in Sylvan Lake. The race, organized by the Foothills Speed Skating Marathon Association, was the first of its kind in this community.
It was bitterly cold with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees below zero. That, combined with a biting wind, caused onlookers to huddle in groups, or warm their frozen hands at a fire. Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd. set up a tent where they served bowls of delicious pea soup, buns and sweet hot chocolate to the grateful crowd.
The numbing temperatures did little to dispel the good humour and upbeat mood of the spectators, most of whom were of Dutch origin. From the time the start gun sounded, enthusiastic fans waved flags, hugged each other and enthusiastically cheered the skaters on.
And even though the cold kept its tenacious grip throughout the afternoon, the crowd hung in there, bolstered, at least in part, by bowls of hot pea soup and steaming hot chocolate. "Itís a tradition in Holland," one woman explained, as she took a mouthful of the steaming brew. "Itís very good!"
Dirk Appel, who had spent hours on the zamboni clearing the track, was among the fans cheering the skaters on. "We are very pleased. Overall, it was pretty good. The volunteers were terrific," he said, sporting a huge warm smile. He said it was "unbelievable" how many spectators showed up, estimating the crowd to be between 400 and 500 people.
Appel, who spent months preparing the marathon with Evert van Benthem, said even the cold weather could not stop the event from happening, which should be a good indication of its popularity.
Judy van Hyfte, a Red Deer teacher who won the master ladiesí race, was thrilled with everything about the event. "It was really fun. I totally enjoyed it. I am just so honoured to have been a part of it. It was a brilliant deployment of the Dutch and Canadian culture. I just couldnít say thank you enough to anybody out there who was involved at all." Van Hyfte said the natural ice was somewhat of a challenge. "It has quite a few natural cracks," she said, "but I was wearing knee pads and ready for any fall."
Jamie Ivey, who won the menís race with a time of 1:41:56, was also excited and pleased with the race and his win. "It was awesome," he said. "The natural ice was great, but Iím ready to jump in a hot tub now!"
Joe de Haas from Sylvan Lake and originally from Holland recalled skating 78 kilometres in the 1963 11 City Tour. He was excited about a smaller version of the event coming to Sylvan Lake. "I think it was just great," he said. "Of course, the weather put a big damper on it. If it would have been even just around zero, we would have had a big party on the ice after it was all over."
In an effort to bring a little bit of Holland into the race, de Haas approached BHL about building a replica of the Bartlehiem bridge. The company obliged and the bridge was recognized by many in the crowd. "The name means nothing in Canada, but it does in Holland and maybe the event will be televised over there," said de Haas.
Well-known speed skater Steven Elm was unable to attend the race due to illness, but was well represented by his family. His mother, Marg Elm, finished third in the master ladiesí, and his sister, Selina Elm, was first in the senior ladiesí with a time of 59:54.
A 13-year-old skater from the Netherlands, Marloes Heus, finished third in the junior ladiesí with a time of 1:23:06. Her father accompanied his daughter on the trip and later skated in the afternoon tour.
Evert van Benthem, who won the 11 City Race in Holland in 1985 and 1986 and was one of the main organizers of this race, watched his sons, 16-year-old Merein and 19-year-old Rolf, come in first and second in the junior menís race.
The winners of the senior menís race were Jamie Ivey, Reint Boelman and Neil Boelman. Selina Elm won the senior ladiesí and Manka Wolfs finished second.
In the master menís category, Andy Dahlstrom, Mark Kandola, Blaine Hill, Rob Kramer, Iman Koeman, Willem Langenberg, Martien Pater, Russell Gottschalk, Sean Maw and Douglas Brown were the first 10 competitors.
In the master ladiesí Judy Van Hyfte was first followed by Hilda Duffield and Marg Elm. In the junior ladiesí Kelsey Duffield was first followed by Nicole Garrido and Marloes Heus. In the junior menís race, Merein Van Benthem finished with a time of 1:43:17 followed by his brother Rolf with a time of 1:48. Bart Geijsel and Keith Sulzer came in third and fourth.
Following the race, 150 participants skated in a tour with all proceeds going to St. John Ambulance.
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