Summer has finally arrived in Muskoka, that brief and glorious time of year where the sun once again makes its presence felt, and the only ice people need to worry about are the cubes in their drinks.
But while most eagerly celebrate the warmth and have already begun planning their outdoor activities for the coming months, not everyone is thrilled by the lack of snow. In fact, some are so eager for winter to return that they are willing to travel thousands of miles to find it.
Collin Cameron is one of those people.
Fresh off winning his first para-Nordic World Cup medal, a gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea in March, Collin is already back on the proverbial (and literal) slopes as a part of an intense training regimen this summer. He has spent the last two weeks split between Canmore, Alberta and Bend, Oregon, where he has been working with the Canadian Para-Nordic National Ski Team with the goal of building on his incredible “rookie” season.
Cameron was himself named to the national team last month, and will be competing alongside Canadian legends like Brian McKeever and Mark Arendz later this fall. It’s been a whirlwind year for the Muskoka native, who has learned to balance the joys of a new marriage alongside a full-time job and being displaced from home for over a month due to an apartment fire. Along with the nomination to the national team came recognition this past week from the Greater Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame, where Cameron was awarded the distinction of being named the region’s Elite Athlete of the Year.
In true Canadian fashion, or perhaps in Cameron fashion, Collin attributed the bulk of his success to the efforts of his coach and mentor, Patti Kitler, who has been by his side and encouraging him since the beginning. Patti was also recognized this week by the Hall of Fame as Coach of the Year.
“My opinion is that was the award of the night,” said Collin, in appreciation of his coach. “Not only for what she has done for me, but what she has done for the entire para sport programme throughout Sudbury and Ontario.”
Last year’s World Cup circuit began for Collin in Vuokatti, Finland, where he made it into the finals of the sprint event, and finished 11th and 12th in the short and long course respectively. He bettered his results with three top-ten finishes at the World Championships in Germany two months later, coming fourth in the sprint, fifth in the 12.5 km biathlon and seventh in the cross country long course.
And then came Pyeongchang. Sixth in the long course, sixth in the short course. Pure gold in the sprint.
“I don’t think anyone expects to win a race in their first season,” laughed Cameron afterwards. “I believed in myself and my training and the support I’ve had from all my coaches, the team, and family. It definitely felt like all my hard work this past year paid off.”
Taking first place in a World Cup event never comes easy, and for Collin the chance almost didn’t come at all. In the event semi-finals, he had to overcome a crash with another racer coming out of the gate, and only qualified to move on with an incredible push over the last hundred meters where he was able to pass several competitors to secure the third and final berth into the medal round.
“That race was like a final for me, and I was so happy with that. To have been involved in a crash, having to stop, and then play catch up to get top three – that was a win for me right there.”
With the gold medal in his sights, nothing was about to derail Collin from his first podium finish in the subsequent sprint. He executed a nearly flawless final race, sticking with the pack leaders until the last few sections of track, where he caught American Daniel Cnossen on the final hill and passed him with an inside move just before the finish line.
“I did it,” Collin thought to himself in disbelief, in a bubble of clear thought before the emotion and exhaustion of his accomplishments washed over him.
Reflecting on his victory several months later, Collin admitted that it was a tough year for him in many ways, but juggling a busy work and training schedule and making them both fit with his personal life was part of what made the win so rewarding. The taste of being the best in the world at something for a day also left him hungry for more such victories next season.
But first, Collin will continue his search for summer snow, next in New Zealand and then in Northern California, before the start of the 2017-18 World Cup tour on home soil in Canmore this fall.
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