KENTVILLE, NS - A need for speed and a desire to constantly learn and improve has two New Minas skaters on track to compete at the Canada Games.
Justin Noakes and Ben Eaton, both from New Minas, are both members of the Annapolis Valley Speed Skating Club (AVSSC). Both achieved the qualifying times for the Nova Scotia 2019 Canada Games short track speed skating team based on their performances at the recent Citadel Cup in Halifax. However, official selections won’t be announced until the Nova Scotia long track speed skating team selection meet on Jan. 12 and 13.
Several skaters, including Noakes and Eaton, will be trying out for the long track team. Skaters who qualify for both have to choose which team to be on. Although Eaton has made the qualifying times for the short track team, he is currently in the sixth or alternate position but it’s expected that he will move up to the team after the long track selections are finalized. Noakes and Eaton, who have competed across the Maritimes, would be the first speed skaters from the Valley to compete at the Canada Games.
The AVSSC’s home arena is the Credit Union Centre in Kingston but because the two skaters require a higher level of training for the Canada Games, they’ve been training three times a week with Nova Scotia’s high performance speed skating group in Dartmouth.
Noakes, who will turn 15 in late December, said he loves the intensity of speed skating and he finds it to be a great stress reliever. His time in the 500 m was 0:52 while the qualifying time was 0:53. His time in the 1,500 m was 2:42 while the qualifying time was 2:58. He said it was exciting to make the qualifying times.
“We’ve been training all summer really hard and when I got that time and the news from my coach that I made the time, I was really happy,” Noakes said. “I was scared I wasn’t going to make it and I was getting a little nervous.”
Noakes said he currently doesn’t have the times necessary to make the long track team but he’s going to try to bump them up once the Oval in Halifax opens.
“I really like long track and if I make the times, it’s going to be a hard decision for me to pick one because I really like both of them,” he said.
As frustrating as it is to fall, Noakes said that if it happens during a competition, he picks himself up and keeps going to finish with the best time possible. Eaton agrees that this is all you can do in such a situation. When a speed skater goes down, the impact sounds like someone has struck the rink boards with a sledge hammer.
Eaton, who is 15 years old, said his time in the 500 m was 0:52 and his time in the 1,500 m was 2:46. He didn’t figure he would make it but said it feels “pretty great” to achieve the short track qualifying times.
He said the possibility of competing at the Canada Games is exciting but “the thing I’m most excited for is the skin suits.” Eaton said they’re pretty cool, as is the rest of the Team Nova Scotia Canada Games apparel.
Eaton said he prefers short track and although he doesn’t have long track blades, he is going to compete at the long track qualifying meet in January. He is working on increasing his stamina and improving his times. He said that once you get into speed skating, it can be very exhilarating, especially after a highly competitive race.
Noakes said he has always wanted to skate as fast as possible. Hockey wasn’t the right fit for him so after his family moved here from Ontario, his mom looked into speed skating and Noakes got involved with the sport. He said there is a great sense of camaraderie in speed skating.
After Eaton’s family moved here, he became good friends with Noakes and found out that Noakes was a speed skater. Eaton said he stopped looking for other sports to try after getting into speed skating.
He and Noakes compete against each other on the ice and this dynamic helps drive them to succeed. Noakes, who has been skating a little longer than Eaton, said he has been very impressed with how quickly his friend has improved.
Because the Canada Winter Games is held every four years and because of their relatively young age, it’s possible that Noakes and Eaton will get to compete in speed skating again at the 2023 games. Both said this is something they never expected.
This time around, they’ll be competing against skaters who are older and more experienced than they are. Noakes said the thought of this can be “pretty scary” but it’s also a great way to improve. Both Noakes and Eaton want to go as far as they can in the sport competitively and both expect that, once their days of competitions are over, they’ll continue to skate for fun.
Annapolis Valley Speed Skating Club president Stephen Raftery said it’s great seeing Noakes and Eaton make the qualifying times for the short track team. It would be very exciting for the club if they do make the selection and compete at the Canada Games in Red Deer, Alberta, in February.
“They’ve both worked really hard, especially over the past six months, both on and off the ice to get to this point,” Raftery said.
Founded in 2012, the AVSSC offers learn to skate, recreational and competitive programs. For more information on the club, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Annapolis Valley Speed Skating Facebook page.