Oct. 31, 2018

Oval-trained athlete makes her World Cup debut on home ice this weekend

Watch Alison Desmarais and the Canadian short track speedskating team in action Nov. 2-4
Alison Desmarais and her Canadian short track teammates are excited for the first World Cup of the season, running Nov. 2 to 4 at the University of Calgary's Olympic Oval.
Alison Desmarais and her Canadian short track teammates are excited for the first World Cup of the s Arno Hoogveld

That’s why I smashed a watermelon.”

To some, a video clip of a young athlete crushing a watermelon with their legs might seem juvenile. But as soon-to-be World Cup skater Alison Desmarais will quickly point out, it’s actually a marker for personal growth. 

Following an injury sustained at last season’s Olympic trials, Desmarais began a self-described “not fun” program with an emphasis on recovering and preventing the recurring lower-body injury. 

  • Above: Alison Desmarais and her Canadian short track teammates are excited for the first World Cup of the season, running Nov. 2 to 4 at the University of Calgary's Olympic Oval. 

“It was a great way to motivate myself to prevent an injury that kept coming back for me,” says Desmarais. “There were a lot of days where I couldn’t really walk after; we joked that one day I would be strong enough to break a watermelon between my legs.”

As her watermelon-crushing social media channels would indicate, Desmarais is always one to focus on the positives. With an infectious smile, a tenacious work ethic and a winning attitude, she is poised for an explosive fall. 

Roll of the dice leads to Montreal

It was a whirlwind month (three weeks to be exact) for the Oval-trained short track skater, who rolled the dice and made a major move to Montreal, competed at the Short Track Canadian Championships, took home a silver medal in the 500m, placed fourth overall in the competition, and earned herself the chance to don the maple leaf and come home to the Oval for her first-ever World Cup event this weekend.

“It’s been a roller coaster, there were days I would be fine and others I would get off the ice and have a complete meltdown and not because of my skating but just life in general and how stressful it is to plan a move in the middle of prep for a really important competition. It’s never easy to leave a whole life behind and make that many changes,” says Desmarais of the lead-up to Canadian Championships / Fall World Cup Trials in Montreal. “There were a lot of highs and lows but then when it started I decided to just push it all aside for the weekend and be like ‘I am just here to skate’.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

Up-and-coming skaters

Desmarais will be the only western Canadian member of the Fall World Cup team this weekend that includes 2018 Olympic gold medallist Samuel Girard and four-time Olympian and reigning World Champion Charles Hamelin. On the women’s side of the team, the loss of veterans like Marianne St. Gelais to retirement has left the Canadians with a hungry group of young up-and-coming skaters. Kim Boutin, winner of three medals at 2018 Olympic Games, and fellow Olympian (and former Oval athlete) Jamie Macdonald, will not participate in the first World Cups of the season. Macdonald, who trained at the Oval for most of her young career, was also recently crowned the 2018 Overall Canadian Champion. 

“None of us have ever skated a World Cup. This is all our first so we all think it’s a really cool experience because we’re kind of in the same boat, it feels like we are all in this together,” says Desmarais. “It’s a really cool time because we feel like in a way we are building our own team with the help of a lot of the veterans instead of maybe feeling like we are getting plopped into the middle of a team that is already formed. We kind of have our own thing.”

For Desmarais, the opportunity to join an exciting group of young skaters like herself has been an energizing experience — as is the chance to compete and interact with Macdonald, her former teammate and now Canadian Champion.

“We were able to room together at Canadian Championships. She’s always been a role model of mine,” says Desmarais, whose remote hometown of Vanderhoof, B.C. is within an hour's drive of Fort St. James, where Macdonald hails from. “I would watch her at provincial competitions and you’d see her win or get a national record and I was like, 'I want to be as fast as Jamie one day,' so it’s really cool to have her as a friend and a teammate now and see her success.”

Journey began with Olympic Oval program 

When the racing starts on Nov. 2 at the Olympic Oval, Desmarais will have an opportunity few will ever get to experience. The chance to represent Canada at the highest level has always been a part of her long-term goals. It is the culmination of a journey that began for her three-and-a-half years ago when she first moved to Calgary and joined the Olympic Oval program.

But adding to the experience will be a crowd of Desmarais’s family, friends and teammates and including her mother and father, Julie and Calvin (still Vanderhoof residents), and her sister Hilary, who will be flying in from Nanaimo. It is a part of the experience the veteran Macdonald has advised Desmarais to savour, after experiencing a similar World Cup event for herself in Calgary in 2016.

“She told me to enjoy the experience with my family, really enjoy the experience for more than just the skating, because it’s special to be here with your family and all the friends you’ve made over the past few years,” says Desmarais. “Skating my first international, and to add that it’s in Calgary, makes it extra special. Calgary still feels like home.

“It’s so surreal, I was talking to Jamie about it the day before trials. I remember telling her how cool and amazing it would it be if my first World Cup was in Calgary at the Oval. She just sort of laughed with me and was like, yeah, that would be, and now here I am preparing for it and I am like, 'This is so much better than I could have even imagined'.”

ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating starts the afternoon of Nov. 2 and runs all weekend at the Olympic Oval. For tickets, schedule and information, visit the event website.