A mining company has dug deep in its pockets to help Yukon’s top cross-country skiers reach their goals next season.
RyanWood Exploration Inc., based in Dawson City, has created the Northern Exploration and Sport Development Fund.
Through the fund, Whitehorse skiers Emily Nishikawa, Dahria Beatty and Knute Johnsgaard, all of who are on the national team, will together receive $70,000.
“This support from RyanWood Exploration is just incredible,” said Nishikawa in an email to the News. “It will really allow us to focus on training and racing to our potential and not have to worry about how to fund it. It means so much as we enter into an Olympic year with big goals ahead. A huge thank you to RyanWood Explorations for this funding.”
RyanWood is owned by business and life partners, Cathy Wood and Shawn Ryan. This isn’t the first time they’ve stepped up to help a skier with the financial strains that come with competing at an elite level.
Sever years ago Grant Abbott, whose son Colin was teammates with Johnsgaard, approached RyanWood about sponsoring an up-and-coming skier.
“He came to me and our business and said ‘I know a young man who has lots of talent, is very hardworking, has all the skills to move forward in the cross-country skiing sport’ and he asked me if we could raise some dollars to get him to the next level,” said Wood. “I talked to some other exploration companies and we all threw in some dollars — it was Knute — to get him some advanced training and getting him out there at the start of his career.”
“A lot of people think that when you make it to this level you’re set, but in fact it’s the opposite — you’re given opportunities which cost money,” said Johnsgaard. “We need to gain experience on the World Cup to progress but the set rate of $160 per day adds up quick when you’re in Europe for months at a time. These costs are in addition to trans-Atlantic flights, team/coaching fees, and summer training camps. Canmore, Alberta, where the National Team is based out of also happens to have one of the highest costs of living in Canada.”
Wood and Ryan don’t actually have any connection to cross-country skiing, but they know high-level competition tends to come with high costs. Their son Callum Ryan is an elite soccer player who recently finished his first season playing for York St. John University in England.
In fact, they didn’t know any of the three skiers until recently. Wood didn’t even meet Johnsgaard until she introduced herself after one of his races last year when Whitehorse hosted the Haywood Ski Nationals.
“He was so taken back by the generosity that we were able to help him with before, that he said it changed his path,” said Wood.
“All three of these young athletes are great community ambassadors as well. So my only request, if we do this, that I would like whoever accesses the money from the fund to give back to the community and mentor young kids — especially the communities that don’t always get the access to see the different athletes, hear their stories and see how they train, and stuff like that.”
Nishikawa, Beatty and Johnsgaard raced for Canada on the FIS World Cup circuit and at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships this past season.
Johnsgaard and Beatty have met standards to compete for Canada at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Beatty met the standard with three top-30 finishes at the FIS level.
Johnsgaard did the same when he won a bronze with the Canadian men’s team in a relay at an FIS World Cup this past January in Sweden. He’s the first Yukon-born skier ever to make the podium at a World Cup event.
“I was really excited and grateful when I learned about this funding. It is a huge contribution, really amazing,” said Beatty. “The support of RyanWood Exploration will allow us to prepare to the best of our abilities for the winter season without having to worry about if we can afford to go to a camp or not. We commit so much of life to this sport and always try to take the opportunities that will allow us to grow and become better athletes. It is a sigh of relief to know that I won’t have to go into the red just to compete on the world stage thanks to Cathy and Shawn.”
Nishikawa, who competed at he 2014 Olympics in Sochi, will in all likelihood compete at her second Games next year. She captured three gold medals, becoming the senior women’s aggregate champion for the second year in a row at the Haywood Ski Nationals last month.
The RyanWood sports fund will be managed through Sport Yukon under the National Sport Trust Fund.
“My thought this time was that I wanted to make it more of an ongoing opportunity, not just for cross-country skiers, but all high-performance athletes to potentially access dollars, and to show how mining exploration can help the community,” said Wood.
“We’re tapping the shoulders of other companies to hopefully be ongoing contributors as well,” she added. “I’ve definitely got some great interest (but) I won’t say anything until I have full confirmation.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org