Skaters with the Humber Valley Speedskating Club, from left, Ashley Higgins, Nicholas Higgins and Ella Tucker pose for a photo with 2006 Olympian speedskater Anouk Leblanc-Boucher in Fredericton over the weekend. — Submitted photo
Ashley Higgins admits she’s struggled adjusting from one skate to another, but it appears she’s carving her niche in the speedskating world.
The 17-year-old Corner Brook native was one of three members of the Humber Valley Speedskating Club who participated in the Tailender Short Track Speedskating Competition in Fredericton, N.B. over the weekend.
She has been immersed in speedskating for three years while still trying to put the puck past opposing goalies in female hockey with the Corner Brook Under-20 female team.
It hasn’t been a walk in the park.
“Oh definitely. I used to fall every single time I went back on hockey skates,” Ashley said of the challenge she faced when she tried to get a balance in both sports. “It’s getting easier as the days go by.”
Higgins won gold in Division 5 in Fredericton, a journey she shared with her fellow skater and younger sibling Nicholas, who claimed a gold medal, and Ella Tucker, who managed a fourth-place finish. Coach Sharon Karn and four other members of the club were bound for New Brunswick too, but the group ended up being grounded in Port aux Basques when Marine Atlantic ran into weekend cancellations due to heavy ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
A Level 3 student at Corner Brook High looking upon graduation in June, Higgins received the gold medal based on her stellar performance in six races in a field of 14 skaters from Atlantic Canada. She had a busy weekend with three races on Saturday and three more on Sunday.
“I got a personal best in almost every distance I’ve done,” Ashley said.
Higgins admits she put a lot of hard work into her skating to get the results she achieved. She loves to skate because it’s competitive and provides her with an opportunity to challenge herself.
“You feel great that you’ve done it,” she said of the confidence boost she gets after reaching a goal. “You’re racing against yourself every single time you go on the ice.”
She will now focus her energy on hockey with her provincial tournament in St. Anthony only a few weeks away now that the competitive speedskating season is wrapped up, but she makes it quite clear that she has her sights set on a specific goal as she commits to being the fastest she can be on a set of short track blades.
“I plan on going to the 2015 Canada Winter Games in B.C.,” she said. “I just know I have to improve on my times and put a lot of work into it.”
Nicholas Higgins, meanwhile, is only nine years old and just getting his feet wet in only his second season with Humber Valley Speedskating Club.
Not everybody in Fredericton was convince he was so green to the sport, however, as the Humber Elementary student turned heads by snagging the gold medal — his first-ever medal at a scheduled meet in two years of skating — in a field of 13 skaters in Division 11.
“Pretty happy and surprised,” Nicholas responded when asked to sum his feeling when he won his medal.
“I went there to have fun and meet people, and I really did,” he said, noting he felt bad that the rest of his teammates didn’t make it to the meet.
Somewhat of a social butterfly in speedskating circles it appears, Higgins really got his money’s worth on this venture because he got to meet 2006 Canadian Olympic speedskating double medalist Anouk Leblanc-Boucher, who lives in New Brunswick and is looking at a comeback trail that will see her challenge for a spot on Team Canada for the 2018 Olympics in Korea.
“It was pretty good. I got her autograph on one of my first-place ribbons,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas plans on bringing his medal to school with him today to show his friends.
He will be back for another season and hopes to be a regular visitor to the medal podium.
“I’m trying to focus on getting on my edges again and getting down lower,” he said of his focus forging ahead.