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Cross country skiing priest remembered

For Father Jean-Marie Mouchet, skiing wasn't just a winter recreation. For him, it was an act of faith. "He was never on or off, he was always just 100 per cent a ski coach and a priest.

For Father Jean-Marie Mouchet, skiing wasn’t just a winter recreation. For him, it was an act of faith.

“He was never on or off, he was always just 100 per cent a ski coach and a priest. The way he believed in sport, the two were intrinsically linked for him. His expression of faith was through sport,” said Pavlina Sudrich, a close family friend and one of Mouchet’s many students over the years.

Father Mouchet died on Monday in Whitehorse. He was 96.

Mouchet came to the Yukon after the Second World War as an Oblate priest. He was sent to Old Crow to aid in the Catholic conversion of the Gwich’in people. But he also taught them to ski. Many of the Old Crow families were by his bedside in his final days, Sudrich said.

“He had a very profound respect for the Gwich’in people, and it was mutual. To be a priest in the 1950s in Old Crow and to have that kind of respect from the community, it was almost unheard of,” Sudrich said.

In the 1960s, Mouchet pioneered the Territorial Experimental Ski Training - or TEST - program, and a decade later he had landed Old Crow and Inuvik racers on the Canadian National Team, and helped send the famous Firth sisters, Sharon and Shirley from Inuvik, to compete at the Olympics. In 1993 he earned the Order of Canada for his dedication to the people of the North.

He has a slew of Yukon accolades to his name as well. Mouchet was inducted into the Yukon Hall of Fame in 1980, and earned the commissioner’s medal in 1981.

Sudrich grew up in Whitehorse and learned to ski through the TEST program herself, and is now the coach of Ontario’s provincial cross-country ski team. She spoke to the News from Silver Star, B.C., where she is coaching her own athletes in the Canada Cup race series opener.

She would never have made it that far, or influenced as many athletes as she has, without Father Mouchet’s guidance, she said.

“Through skiing Father taught me the deeper meaning of hard work, and that through hard work we gain the self confidence to succeed in life. He also taught me to revel in the beauty of a perfectly timed kick and glide,” Sudrich said.

Mouchet passed away surrounded by friends and family, and while she couldn’t be there herself Sudrich said she was thankful for the time she got to spend with him in his final weeks before she had to leave for the races in B.C.

“He loved sweets. He loved tiramisu. He was eating a full piece of it every morning, right up until the end. You never want to let go of someone, but he went out on the top of his game. He was skiing in the spring, even at 96,” she said.

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