It’s going to rough week when you want to be awake at midnight and asleep while the sun is out.  The first few days in Whistler were not pretty.  We all were tired just from the long travel day then you mix in 11 hours of time change, the result makes for restless nights and long days.  By 9PM I could not stay awake anymore, so I went to bed.  The first few nights I would wake up around midnight and then 2AM and the rest of the night was a periodic cycle of waking and sleep.  On the third night I was so tired of trying to get back to sleep I just gave up and got up.  Balance, especially on the skis, was terrible.  The first day on skis I made Bambi look graceful.  The nicest part of being in Whistler was the fact the snow was fast (er), or at least faster than the last days in Sochi.  Which was a wonderful feeling, I felt like a decent skier again.

There is no rest for the wicked.  Friday night we arrived in Whistler, and we were on the snow Saturday morning bright and early testing skis for Sunday’s race.  Saturday was in fact the first day of racing but it was the Team Sprints.  Sunday would be the first individual race of the 2013 Haywood Ski Nationals.  I was racing in the Open Men’s field, along with 149 other skiers.  During the warm up I wasn’t feeling any love, I could hardly hold any tempo, and there was a little snap but not too much.  Before, I had already decided that I wanted to race with a focus on technique.  The course was hard, some big steep climbs and fast descents but with it being hard packed snow it was a lot of fun.  Once I got on course, I felt pretty good.  I was moving well. My descending was ok, I wasn’t comfortable with my balance so I was a touch cautious but I started pushing through that.  The tough part of the whole race was the beginning of the second lap; I was a little tight in my right calf.  Even that went away and I was back to hammering.  I enjoyed that race a lot.  Afterwards everyone was saying how well I looked out there and that I was skiing well.  That was how I felt.  Of the 150 skiers on the start list, I would finish 122th.  But a huge congrats to my teammate Brian McKeever who took the win for his very first National title.

Monday was a training day and testing the classic skis for Tuesday’s race, a 15km classic.  I think I had at least a ski from every classic pair of skis I brought, out testing.  By this point in the week it was getting warm.  The classic race was going to be a slog.  Like the skate course, I had never raced the entire classic either.  I had skied the skate course a few times but never in its entirety.  The classic course I knew a little bit since the majority was the Red Course from the Olympics and the Paralympic course.  What differed, was skiing all the way up the climbs instead of taking shortcuts on them.  And a fairly flat section two thirds the way through the course.  While I was testing classic skis, I was skiing the course and getting familiar with it.  It was a challenging course, made harder by the conditions.  The race would consist of two laps of a 7.5km course.  Right off the start you climb!  On race day, the skis were ok but I thought I had a touch too little grip climbing, as I struggled up the first climb.  Then what was worse I had a touch too much grip on the downhill.  I had to work with it, try to ski in the wax and hope that the grip would improve.  Which it did, and not only there but the grip had improved for the remainder of the race as well.  Once I worked out how to best get the grip, I started to ski better.  I had good ski from then on, particularly gliding as I was catching most people on the flat or descents and a few on the short steep climbs.  It was a tough slog of a day but I was again very pleased with the race.  Even with the great ski I just missed the top-100, finishing 105.

I now had three days off before the last race for the 2012/2013 season.  The forecasted high for Saturday and the distance races was +17c.  It was going to be a hot one.  I knew it was going to be soft and not really fast.  The other change for me on the day and one of the reasons I would starting later on the day was I was racing in the Para-standing and not the Open Men.  The Open Men had a 50km Mass start on Saturday and Para had a 15km ‘Mass Start’.

Friday morning I received the unfortunate news that my Beppe (grandmother) had passed away.  One of her final wishes was that the whole family comes to Holland for the funeral.  It was my decision to race the last day and dedicate the race to Beppe.  I jumped into the lead right from the gun, never relinquishing it for a moment.  It was a soft day on course; luckily they had salted most of the course so it stayed fairly hard and fast(ish).  It was a fantastic race, I really enjoyed it and once I started catching the Junior Boys (that started 2 minutes before me) I was hungry to catch more them.  I would give that victory to Beppe.  The moment I stepped across the finish that was when the craziness began.  Within 15 minutes I was in a car heading back to the hotel.  I had a 16:00 shuttle to catch to get to the Vancouver Airport.  I just had enough time to shower at the hotel and stuff the last few items in my luggage before getting onboard the bus destined for Vancouver.  Cruising down Highway 99.  It was a breeze to get through check-in and security and went directly to a restaurant to find some food.  A 20:50, deserted, flight to Calgary.  I left the Calgary Airport just before midnight and drove to Canmore.  Within 12 hours of arriving at home in Canmore I was departing again.  I had just enough time to get some sleep, breakfast and pick up some fresh, clean clothes.  Flying to Amsterdam was relatively simply, it felt weird checking-in with only one bag, I felt like I was forgetting something… but I hadn’t.

The next week and a half were a mix of emotions and activities.  I enjoyed meeting family from my mother’s side that I had never met before.  One of these family members I had run past their farm several times last year while I was in Friesland and had no clue they were related.  We tried to do a few things that we used to with Beppe.  We ate lekkerbekjes (fried cod-filets with some special spices).  As well as some salted herring with onions.  Which you have to hold by the tail, tilt your head backwards and drop it in, a type of Dutch ‘sushi’.  We went to Beppe’s favorite restaurant the Zwarte Haan (the Black Cock).  A charming little (very busy) café on the top of the dyke that is the Northwest edge of the Nederlands.  From there we could look over the dyke onto the raging North Sea.  It was a trip down memory lane but a celebration of life as well.

For the second time in the past two months I’ll be heading home.  This time it will be for a more extended stay not for 12 hours but for several weeks.  After another long season I’m happy to take some time off.  It has been an extremely successful season for me and the rest of the Canadian team as well.  The World Cup season started off on some rocky ground with some results that were inconsistent for me.  A great set of World cup races in Cable, Wisconsin.  Then came a much needed mid-season break to recover and train before a final massive tour of races.  Off to Sweden for the World Championships.  An incredible Biathlon Sprint that resulted in a World title followed by two third place finishes.  To cap off the season at the test event in Sochi with a fifth and a third.  In the end five World Cup podiums and three World Championship podium finishes.  The previous two seasons I’ve finished a close second in the Biathlon World Cup Overall, but this year I took that extra step up to the top of the podium.  With all these results the most important was that in every race and with every trip I learned something.  For that is what I need to take away from the season to better prepare for next year.

Thank you everyone for your support this year, without all of you it would be a great deal tougher.  There are days where knowing I have your support, pushes me through.  I look forward to the upcoming training season as I push for the 2014 Paralympics.

Mark


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