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As a high-performance athlete, long-track speed skater Isabelle Weidemann is accustomed to making sacrifices for the pursuit of excellence.
But when she couldn’t be home in Ottawa with her family for Christmas 2015, well, that was hard to accept. But the Calgary-based, national development and NextGen team athlete had no choice. There was no time for a break with the all-important Canadian single-distance championships fast approaching.
So, for Christmas 2016, Weidemann’s mother, Laurel Rockwell, took control of the situation and flew to Calgary with husband, John Weidemann, and daughter Lily, and rented a house to celebrate the family occasion. For their part, Isabelle, her brother Jake and sister Lily gave their parents a memorable gift in return — they all competed at the national championships or Canada Cup 2 meets at the Olympic Oval.
It was the first time the three Weidemann siblings had competed at such a high level under one roof. And they emerged with a variety of significant achievements under the watchful eyes of their cheering parents.
“We always spend the holidays together, but last year was hard for me to be away. But sacrifices had to be made because of the competition,” said Isabelle, who earned four medals, including two gold, at the 2017 Canadian single-distance championships.
“It meant the world to me for my parents to come out, to watch me, to cheer for me and to want me to do well. It meant the world to me for Jake and Lily to do well. We all enjoyed it,” said Isabelle, who followed the lead of a family friend at age 12 and replaced downhill skiing with speed skating as her winter sport.
Isabelle stood on the medal podium following all four of her national championship races. After a disappointing 3,000 metres, where she still tied for second with Brianne Tutt of Airdrie, Alta., in a mediocre 4 minutes 11.38 seconds, Isabelle rebounded the next day by defending her 5,000-metre title with a better all-around effort in 7:13.28.
The victory also qualified her for her second straight world senior single-distance championships, which will christen the 2018 Winter Olympic oval, Feb. 9-12 in Gangneung, South Korea. She will test herself against the clock in the 5,000 metres, where she was fifth in 2016, the 3,000 metres and team pursuit with Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin and Tutt. She also is a spare for the 1,500 metres.
Isabelle finished her national championships by placing third in the 1,500 metres in 1:58.43 and winning her first mass-start title.
Jake, who at 20 is an Ontario Quest for Gold-funded athlete but practises with the Calgary Oval training group in the shadow of the national men’s team, raced four times at the nationals. He finished sixth in the men’s 5,000 metres in 6:41.61, and also competed in the 500 metres, 1,500 metres and mass start.
Lily, 17, had the most demanding schedule and competition with six Canada Cup 2 races against senior-level skaters just below the national team. At the Ontario long-course championships at Brewer Park earlier this month, Lily, who also plans to train and attend the University of Calgary in September, captured the women’s all-around title by winning the 3,000 and 1,500 (tie) metres and placing second in the 500 and 1,000 metres.
While Isabelle sees Jake on a regular basis, since they share a house with national-level speed skaters Graeme Fish and Simon Coutts, having the three Weidemanns race in front of their parents was an uplifting experience.
“It was fun. We all cheered for each other. It was really exciting to watch my sister experience it and skate fast, and to watch my brother experience some success and have some PRs (personal-record times),” Isabelle said.
All three skaters also had their parents cheering loudly. Laurel “usually stands in the corner of the oval and is more encouraging than coaching,” Isabelle added.