When it freezes for more than a couple of days, the Rideau Canal is truly Ottawa’s own natural wonder. Seemingly endless, it offers 15.6 kilometres of beautiful skating. But the throngs of people juggling hot chocolate and BeaverTails — not to mention the often bumpy surface — mean it’s not up to scratch for speed skating, which is why competitive speed skater Isabelle Weidemann had to leave three years ago.
Weidemann, 21, is now a student at the University of Calgary. When she’s not on the ice, that is. Depending on the time of year, she trains about 40 hours a week. “It’s like a full-time job,” she says. Those hours just aren’t possible in a city without an indoor refrigerated skating oval.
When she started out 10 years ago, Weidemann spent many hours on the road.
“Ottawa has one outdoor oval that’s open if the weather co-operates — that means January and February at best — so I used to travel to Lake Placid and Quebec City frequently and also skate short track on a hockey-size rink,” she explains.
All those hours on the road appear to be paying off. Weidemann recently finished her first full season on the international circuit, where she competed in five world cups and qualified for the World Championships. She finished fifth in the 5,000-metre race.
“I try to visit as much as I can. My whole family — except for my speed-skating brother — is out there,” says Weidemann from her Calgary home. “If Ottawa had an indoor oval, I would love to train there. Living at home, or close to family, would be amazing. They’re a huge support. It’s hard to be away from everyone.”