Mary Spring didn’t start cross country skiing until she was in university when an instructor asked if anyone wanted to give it a try. Spring and some other students said, sure, why not? Little did she know that those lessons held on a football field in Waterloo would ignite a life-long passion.
“I just fell in love with it,” she says.
As a teacher, she later began working at outdoor education centres and earned a level one certification so that she could teach Nordic skiing.
Then, after a move to Huntsville in about 1980, she began teaching at Huntsville Public School (HPS). Lo and behold, there were some old skis sitting unused in a room at the school. It wasn’t the greatest equipment, Spring recalls, but they dusted everything off and began teaching cross-country skiing as part of the phys. ed. program. Reminiscent of Spring’s start in the sport, students practiced on the flat surface of the schoolyard.
She carried her love for cross-country skiing over into the classroom, too. As part of a writing exercise, she asked her students to write a letter to a hero. Spring explained to her students that Herman “Jackrabbit” Smith-Johansson—a Norwegian and accomplished Nordic skier who moved to Quebec as a young man, and after whom the Jackrabbit kids’ cross-country ski programs offered across the country are named—was her own hero. At that time he was 104 years old and was still cross-country skiing. Spring and her students were delighted when he wrote back to them.
“(He said) it’s just such a great sport, and you can do it your whole life,” says Spring. She investigated the requirements for the Jackrabbit program and brought it to HPS. When it outgrew the space there, the program was moved to Arrowhead Provincial Park.
She’s no longer involved with the Jackrabbits, but she has continued to cross-country ski, buying a pass for the trails at Arrowhead every winter—”It’s such a fantastic spot for cross-country skiing,” she says—and has participated in loppets over the years.
Spring doesn’t consider herself to be a very competitive skier; she’s not the fastest, nor is she out to win a prize, she says, but she likes to challenge herself.
Her newest challenge is the upcoming Ontario 55+ Winter Games, which Huntsville is hosting from March 5-7, 2019. She’ll be participating in prediction Nordic skiing—participants ski a five-kilometre route but first must guess how long it will take to complete the course. Whoever comes closest to their prediction is declared the winner.
Spring doesn’t know which course at Arrowhead will be used for the competition, so she’s been training by skiing various five-kilometre routes and noting her time to get a sense of her pace. That way, when it comes time to compete she can try to match her pace to the time she has predicted. “It’s fun and it’s just for a challenge. I thought it’d be fun to meet other people doing the same thing. It’s nice that Huntsville gets this opportunity (to host the Games).”
She was also excited to join friends for a cross-country ski trip to Austria and Italy last month, the fulfillment of a dream. The rest of the year she likes to ride her bike and hike and go to the gym.
Spring encourages everyone of every age, but particularly older adults, to keep themselves moving. “You know, use it or lose it,” she says with a laugh. Though she wouldn’t say so herself, she provides a good example to follow.
Good luck in the Winter Games, Mary!
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