Nordic sports club offers new developmental options at Augustana

Students, alumni and members of the community came together to make sure that cross country skiing and biathlon remain an integral part of Augustana after a cut in funding last spring.

Tia Lalani - 21 January 2019

Cross country skiing and biathlon underwent a change in structure when their funding was cut last spring, but Nordic Sports are as strong as ever at Augustana. Photo courtesy of the Nordic Sports Club.

At the end of last year's season, the cross country skiing and biathlon teams were up against more than just the competition. After their funding was cut as a team sport, the group had to reevaluate and decide what the sport really meant to them. Ten months later, they have shown that the sport means not only competing but developing new athletes, volunteering in the community, fundraising, creating policy and unlike many other Albertans, unbridled enthusiasm for the falling snow.

"When anything goes through this kind of a big change it really forces you to go back to what you're built on," said Nils Asfeldt, member of the new Nordic Sports Club at Augustana, and coach for the Camrose Ski Club's Junior Racers program. As it turns out, that foundation is and always has been a love for the sport and a lot of hard work.

Following the dissolution of Nordic sports as team sports, a Nordic Sports Advisory committee made up of students, alumni, community members, the Camrose Ski Club president and a handful of staff members from Augustana was formed, leading to the creation of a Nordic Sports Club. Instead of simply focusing on competition as student-athletes, they have developed a three-tiered system that involves a developmental team, competitive team and campus recreational Nordic programming.

"The developmental team is completely new, and one of the things we're most proud of," said Mackenzie Grove, who sits on the advisory committee as well as the campus recreation council and skis competitively. "We're facilitating learn-to-ski beginner technique with an opportunity to transition into the competitive sport later as opposed to race-focused high intensity and high volume training."

Although some of the athletes still focus on the high-intensity competitive side, the number of participants has grown from 10 last year to 20 this year because of the added room for development. The club hopes to grow the team even more, by offering Learn-to-Ski sessions and helping to facilitate the opening of a Nordic Ski Library at Augustana, where staff, students and faculty will be able to rent out equipment at their leisure.

"We're a bit more relaxed as a whole now because we have a bigger scope," said Nils. "The funding cut allowed for a shift in perspective as well as a need for us to rebuild. Now, we're making time and making room for community spirit and volunteerism."

Nils Asfeldt experiencing some of the friendly competition and camraderie-his favourite part of being involved with Nordic Sports. Photo courtesy of the Nordic Sports Club.

Nils is very aware of the volunteer aspect as the volunteer coach for Camrose Ski Club's Junior Racers team. Along with other members of the club, Nils coaches the Junior Racers, a group of about twelve junior and senior high school students, in cross country skiing three times a week. They travel to competitions together as he is often competing at the same place himself, along with other members of the club. It's that camaraderie that he likes best about the sport.

"When I look back at my childhood skiing, the best memories aren't from crossing the finish line but from the community: staying with friends in hotels or basements or churches or whatever. It's perhaps a freedom we have now as a sports club rather than as a Vikings team."

The transition has not been without its challenges. Aside from the timing of the announcement which was summed up by the team as "frustrating", the lack of money and a full-time coach raises questions about the sustainability of the sport at Augustana. Although the club is currently working to form a club council to deal with day-to-day operations and details surrounding the sport, including race, travel and accommodation fees for competitions, many of its participants will complete their degrees this year and will be leaving Augustana.

"Right now, we're able to shoulder the work because we are many," explained Ben Osario, who is participating in Nordic Sports for the second year at Augustana, and now acts as a student coach, organizing and running daily practices and strength sessions. Ben worries that over time, students might not be as willing to shoulder the workloads that the group has this year.

However, the students were not alone in their work. Alongside a strong reciprocal relationship with the Camrose Ski Club that remained intact even when funding did not, the students have also been helped by a great number of Augustana alumni who are still involved with the sport throughout North America today. Figures that have always been involved in Nordic Sports at Augustana, like Augustana professor and Camrose Ski Club President Gerhard Lotz, and former coaches Lowell Niven and Les Parsons continue to offer their knowledge, experience and time. The outpouring of encouragement from community members also bolstered the athlete's spirits and have provided another avenue of support.

"It's exciting to see how enthusiastic the developmental athletes are," says Mackenzie Grove, cross country skier and member of the Nordic Sports Advisory Club. "That enthusiasm carries through to the competitive athletes and rejuvenates them as well-we remember feeling that excited for the first snowfall." Photo courtesy of the Nordic Sports Club.

The club is also trailblazing in their own way, as the first operating club sport of its kind, and Augustana is working to support the transition. "Augustana still treats us as a sports team," Ben said, "We're still being included in colour night, and we've gotten support from Student Life and from Augustana on the fundraising side, and are also hoping for some transitional funding from the Dean's office."

For Mackenzie, the importance of that trailblazing comes in creating a program that really reflects their sport-for-life values. "You may have varsity athletes that go on to compete at a higher level, but realistically, the bulk of your athletes will go on to simply be involved in the sport as a hobby for the rest of their lifetime and once they have kids, will get them involved too."

While some are interested in sport as a hobby, and others for the thrill of competition, the Nordic Sports Club at Augustana is accomplishing both. Five members have qualified for either the Canada Winter Games (cross country skiing) in Red Deer and the Winter Universiade (biathlon) in Russia.

If you'd like to support the Augustana Nordic Sports Club, come out to one of their local competitions to cheer them on! Or, head to the Adopt-A-Viking-Team page, where you can give a gift that will benefit the entire team.