Gavin Broadhead, a former resident of Hay River and one-time Junior A hockey player, is focusing on a new sport to see where it will take him.
“I’m moving to Calgary in June to start training full time for speed skating,” he said in an April 12 telephone interview with The Hub.
Broadhead will train under a national team coach with a group called the Long Track Elite Athlete Pathway at the Calgary Olympic Oval.
“All these people are trying to get to the next level,” he said, noting the skaters come from all over Canada.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity,” he said of training as a speed skater, a sport which he has just taken up. “I still don’t know if I love it. I’m just going to keep enjoying each day of training sessions. And if I’m really enjoying it, it will be something I’ll keep doing, but I’m still kind of just testing it out.”
Broadhead got the opportunity by winning the Alberta section of RBC Training Ground, which is a Canada-wide program designed to discover athletes with potential that might lead to the Olympics.
After that talent identification competition in April of last year, it was determined that he might make a good speed skater.
RBC Training Ground provides funding to Speed Skating Canada, which pays for everything required for the sport – training, equipment, coaching, and travel to events.
“But outside of that, I’m on my own,” said Broadhead.
It remains to be seen just how much time he will commit to training.
“I haven’t really decided yet,” he said. “It will be pretty full time. I’m just kind of planning it out and going to see how it all pans out when I get there. Getting a job isn’t urgent, but I need to have some source of income.”
The 24-year-old has already done some speed skating in Calgary.
“I picked it up quickly,” he said. “I’ve been playing hockey for 21 years now, so I’ve skated a lot and I was a pretty exceptional skater on hockey skates. The speed skating stride is a little different, but it’s not like starting from scratch. Another thing is I have all the strength in my lower body to be able to hold the positions that are required speed skating.”
His junior hockey career with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League ended in 2014.
On April 12, Broadhead completed exams at the University of Lethbridge towards a kinesiology degree.
“I need two more classes to graduate, but I can do those from Calgary,” he said.
Broadhead recalled that, when he was given the opportunity to train as a speed skater, he thought about continuing his education to become a phys-ed teacher.
“I was kind of torn between going for more school and committing to speed skating, and I just decided that the speed skating opportunity won’t be out there forever,” he said. “So I wanted to do it now and try it out, and see where it can go first. School will always be there for a second degree.”
Broadhead is somewhat hesitant to talk about the Olympics, the ultimate goal of any speed skater.
“I still don’t really know, but right now it seems more realistic than it did a year ago,” he said. “Now that I’ve skated, I’ve been on the ice with Olympians, and they’ve been speed skating for a lot longer than I have. But at the end of the day, they’re still just humans and it’s unbelievable how people can learn new motor skills if you really commit to it and learn how to do something new. I don’t think it would be impossible to make it to the Olympics. I certainly think it’s a possibility.”
However, he said he will need to speed skate for a couple of years to know more, and the funding from RBC Training Ground will last for two years.
Broadhead will specifically train for sprint races – the 500 metres, 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres.