Speed skating dream a reality in Southwest Nova

Alison Nuttall, centre, wearing silver and black helmet, explains a drill to members of the Southwest Nova Speed Skating Club. Nuttall formed the club last year. (Contributed)

To say speed skating has been a big part of Alison Nuttall’s life would be a massive understatement.

Having started in the sport in her teens and competed at a national level, the now-retired Nuttall moved to Weymouth, Digby County with her family and was looking to stay active in the sport as a participant and a coach. She did some scouting and found Digby had a big enough ice surface that could possibly support a club and through some contacts made at a New Year’s Levee, was able to secure a meeting with Digby Area Recreation, which runs the facility. A friend of Nuttall’s also introduced her to Steve Raftery, president of the Annapolis Valley Speed Skating Club, who also attended the meeting.

 “They said, ‘Why don’t we try an open house to see how many people might be interested?’ and gave us three hours of free ice time over last year’s March break. They advertised it on their website and Facebook page. Steve brought down all the skates from his club and one of his coaches, and we had a couple parents help out, and we had 60 people show up.”

And thus, the Southwest Nova Speed Skating Club was born.

“I was expecting maybe 15,” Nuttall said with a laugh.

“At that point, people said, ‘You know what? We really want this. If you need any help, let us know.’”

Nuttall began applying for funding from Sport Nova Scotia and the Recreation Community Development Grant to purchase skates and mats. Then the training began, with those registered ranging from ages 4 to 44, including 10 members from Korea, two from the Netherlands and one Mi’Kmaq.

“It’s a really great family-oriented sport,” said Nuttall. “We’ve got parents with kids skating and adults who want to skate for fitness or just to have a different sport, they didn’t want to play hockey.” 

“There’s so few different types of sports to choose from down here, and the fact that it’s something for all ages and parents can get out on the ice with their own kids, they’re really eager to help out. Parents have taken their own initiative to learn coaching techniques online and bring that with them on the ice.

“One of the parents is a cyclist and he hated the winter, and now he says, ‘This makes me love winter now.’ He goes up to the (Emera) Oval (in Halifax) all the time, every weekend if he can get up there.”

It also brought out a competitive element among some members, who have gone on to compete at meets around the province. In December, two skaters from the club brought home gold and bronze in their respective categories at the Atlantic Cup in January at the Emera Oval. There was also a mini-meet in Kingston involving most youth members and the club hosted its first mini-meet in February.

Going forward, Nuttall says the club will be applying for more grants that will go toward upkeep and maintenance of equipment as well as additional ice time.

“I’ve already surpassed what I was hoping for in my first year,” said Nuttall. “Now it’s like, ‘Where do I go from here? Continually, I’m trying to get more people interested and trained, that’s the big thing.”

Nuttall is in her 60s and though she loves doing the heavy lifting, there will come a day when the torch will need to be passed.

“In order for it to be sustainable, we need to train more people on ice in coaching,” Nuttall said. “And, of course, keep putting stuff out there for awareness, because most kids have never even heard of or seen speed skates before in their lives.

“For me, it’s about building community.”  

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