Yukon cross-country skiers have laid tracks at Olympic Games and World Cups around the world. And despite the territory’s ubiquitousness in the sport, last weekend another milestone was surpassed.
At the Haywood Para-Nordic Cross Country Ski Nationals in Canmore, Alberta, Whitehorse’s Ramesh Ferris became the first athlete to represent the territory at a national Para-Nordic event.
“It’s an honour to be part of the first time the Yukon has sent an athlete to Para-Nordic Nationals,” said Ferris. “I was approached by Cross Country Yukon – (head coach) Alain Masson and (assistant coach) Amanda Deuling – to see if I would be interested in developing a sit-skiing program here in the Yukon. They both thought because of my past experience with the Cycle to Walk Polio campaign and crossing the country by hand cycle I would have the endurance to do such a sport.”
Although he only took up the sport in November, Ferris competed in two 2.5-kilometre sit-ski races on the weekend – his first-ever races. On Saturday, Ferris was alone in the developmental category and finished in 11 minutes, 36.2 seconds.
Sunday, Ferris outpaced two others in his category, finishing first with a time of 11:44.4.
“I’m very motivated to put the Yukon on the map in sit-skiing,” said Ferris. “There’s a lot of excitement around the country that there was representation from the Yukon and it was really nice to be warmly received by the Para-Nordic community.”
No stranger to attention, Ferris made national headlines in 2008 with his Cycle to Walk campaign, cycling his hand-bike across Canada and raising $300,000 to fight polio, a disease that paralyzed Ferris’ legs as a very young child.
As massive of an athletic accomplishment as that was, sit-skiing has opened a vast new sporting realm to Ferris, allowing him to appreciate the Yukon in a whole new way.
“It’s been an amazing experience for me, and quite liberating, because we live in this winter wonderland here in the Yukon, and this is the first time, at the age of 30, that I’ve been engaged in a winter activity here,” he said. “I had no idea how big (cross-country skiing) was here until November because I never had any reason to be on a cross-country ski trail. This has provided me with an opportunity to enjoy the Yukon in the winter season and promote active living.”
Ferris owes his trip to the Nationals to Cross-Country Yukon, which rented three sets of sit-skis from an organization in Saskatchewan and first approached him about trying the sport. Cross-Country Yukon is hoping others will become interested in the sport and possibly compete at next year’s Canada Winter Games in Halifax, the first time Para-Nordic skiing will be included in the cross-country events.
“We just got them, but eventually, if Ramesh wants to continue the sport at a higher level, we’ll probably have to get a custom sit-ski,” said Masson. “If we identify or attract other sit-skiers we have stuff for them to get them going.
“We’re super excited that Ramesh tried out and seems excited about the sport.”
“By having representation at the Para-Nordic Nationals, it sends a message that the Yukon fosters development for equal access and opportunity to sport and rec,” said Ferris. “It’s very important because most people with disabilities, many choose to live in other parts of the country where there’s more programming available for them. So it’s exciting that Cross-Country Yukon is developing this program.”
Ferris is releasing his first book, Better than a Cure, about his life and his cross-country journey April 12 and will be doing a book signing the same day at Well Read Books in Whitehorse.
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