Vernon’s Connie Kapak leads a pack of skaters in short track speed skating.

Vernon’s Connie Kapak leads a pack of skaters in short track speed skating.

Kapak thrives in Calgary

Vernon's Connie Kapak enjoying life at Calgary's Oval High Performance Program.

Speed skating phenom Connie Kapak left Vernon for Calgary and a new life in the Oval High Performance Programs in late August.

A few months later and the elite training seems to be working. Kapak has made Team Alberta for the Canada Winter Games, Feb. 13-March 1 in Prince George.

After years of training with clubs in Vernon and Kelowna, Kapak is now in a program where athletes are assigned a primary coach and training group depending upon their age, level of performance, area of specialization, and compatibility with the training group.

“It’s actually been a pretty easy transition,” said Kapak. “It’s a very good program and everybody gets along. The coaches are really good and know a lot. Every week, we get a program telling us what we’re supposed to do for the week.

“Training is very hard and I’ve improved on all my personal bests in every division. My endurance and technical has been better than ever.”

To make the five-skater Team Alberta, Kapak, who turns 16 in February, had to battle a field of 17, most of whom were 19.

After the first trials in early December, Kapak sat sixth. She was involved in a crash or would have been top-five.

The final trials went Dec. 20 and Kapak made the grade in short track and long track races.

“I’m thankful I got to try out and I’m really excited for the experience at the Winter Games,” said Kapak, who at 13, won all six Can Am International Junior World Cup short track races as the second youngest of 207 skaters from around the world.

She is one of three high school-aged participants, the others attending university or in the work force.

The program was advertised as six days per week, however, due to competitions, seven days a week is not uncommon.

Typical days require being away from home for 12 hours, starting with a 6:15 morning drop off at the oval. Days consist of weight training, nutrition, stationary bike, ice sessions and equipment selection. Former national team skaters oversee the program and control the ice sessions.

“I’m in Grade 10 at Sir Winston Churchill and my dad (Pete Kapak) and I live in a house close enough that I can walk to the oval. We do weights in the morning at seven and I go to school from 8:55 (a.m.) until 3:10 and then we do training at 3:30. It was difficult balancing school and skating at first, but I’ve actually improved academically.”

With Calgary being the hub of speed skating, travel will be limited in the future. Kapak made 10 road trips to competitions and camps from Vernon last season. Competitions of all levels are held in Calgary most weekends.

She is competing in the Alberta Indoor Long Track Championships starting today in Calgary. The event draws skaters from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Romania and Australia.

Future travel does include a trip to Richmond, and she has also achieved the times required to join the travel squad to Salt Lake City in March.

She is training in a “combination” group, participating in both long and short track. Sessions are allotted by training in the group which matches the next competition. Her schedule has been dictated by alternating between long and short track, usually in two-week intervals.

Coach-to-athlete ratios range from 12-20 athletes per training group/coach.

Equipment standards are stressed and Kapak was told to replace her short track blades since a fraction of a second is crucial at this level.

Connie, her dad and dog Champ did make it home to Vernon for Halloween, going trick or treating with friends on a short break from training.