The ref comes north

There’s been a lot of talk about the Canada Winter Games legacy—new facilities, improved sporting expertise and national TV exposure.

There’s been a lot of talk about the Canada Winter Games legacy—new facilities, improved sporting expertise and national TV exposure.

Here’s a new one to add to that list — a national-level official comes up for the Games, loves the place and decides to move here.

That Laurie Murchison’s story, or part of it, anyway.

Murchison was born and spent nearly all his 57 years in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island.

When he first visited Whitehorse, to officiate at the 2006 Age Class Short Track Championships in April of last year, he was struck by the wilderness surrounding the city.

“I thought it was really beautiful, and I come from a beautiful place,” said Murchison, over a coffee on a Main Street café on Friday.

The skating, a Canada Games test event, went off without a hitch.

“I was extremely impressed with the facility — and everybody had one goal in mind, to put on a good event, and they did. All the invited officials couldn’t wait to get back here for the Games.”

When he returned for the Canada Games short track event in February, the bitter cold didn’t cool his interest, and he kept half an eye on the local job listings, and even made time for an interview with the Education department.

Six months later, he was moving in, starting a new job as vice-principal at Whitehorse Elementary School and enjoying the Yukon summer with his wife Lee.

“We were looking for an adventure — this is the perfect place for a complete change,” said Murchison, whose two sons are grown and on their own.

“We’re here because it’s where we want to be.”

His career officiating speed skating started almost 20 years earlier, after he found his two sons’ minor hockey was taking up far too much of his time.

“We decided to take a break from hockey, and signed them up for what we thought was power skating — it turned out to be speed skating,” he said with a laugh. “And once they strapped on the long blades, that was it.”

“It’s a very artful sport, there’s a lot of strategy to it … and it truly is a gentleman’s sport, a ladies’ sport,” he added. “Don’t get me wrong, I love hockey, but I never liked the attitude that came with it; speed skating is great for developing young athletes’ sportsmanship.”

His sons skated throughout their teen years — and Murchison took to refereeing immediately, which gave him the opportunity to travel with them to competitions, and to gain experience and credentials in the sport.

“My sons have been out of the sport for seven or eight years now and I’m still with it,” he said.

Murchison is now at the highest certified level he can attain through courses, clinics, and refereeing at big events (he called two world cup races, in Montreal and Chicoutimi, last year).

He won’t be able to step any higher in ranking until he’s tapped to ref at an Olympics or World Championship, which is only a matter of time.

“I’m looking forward to that; when you’re at that level, you’re guaranteed at least one overseas event each year.”

Living in a remote city like Whitehorse won’t have any detrimental effect on his speed skating activities — the national body that governs the sport takes care of the travel, and he’s scheduled to work as chief referee at a national team selection race in Montreal and the Can-Am championships in Calgary, and is hoping to work another World Cup event this season.

But Murchison wants to focus on the here and now, enjoying life in Whitehorse, and helping out the local speed skating club, Whitehorse Rapids, when he can, and perhaps travelling to Yellowknife for the Arctic Winter Games in March.

“I’ve met several people here moving up the ranks of speed skating officials,” said Murchison, adding that he can help those that are interesting and willing to do the work get the chance to gain credentials.

“In fact, Cynthia Onions, a local woman, is going to work as a starter at the Canadian Junior Championships (in December) this season.”

Murchison plans to help out the young skaters in Whitehorse as well. He said that for athletes that don’t get much competition, it’s crucial to understand the infractions that can get a skater disqualified, especially as skaters advance to bigger meets.

“I’d talk to them about cross-tracking, and impeding — when you have a lack of competition, which is the problem here, you have to do a lot of practice in racing situations.”

It’s not all about skating for Murchison, an avid traveller, one of the reasons he moved here was to explore, and have an adventure.

“Five miles out of Whitehorse, and you’re in raw nature. It’s beautiful.”