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HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – It has been a whirlwind year on and off the ice for British Columbia’s Alison Desmarais. After making her international debut with Canada’s long track speed skating team in December, the Calgary-based skater swapped the red Maple Leaf for blue Team Alberta uniform before making her way to the 2023 Canada Winter Games as an Aboriginal apprentice coach.

A native of Vanderhoof, B.C. and member of the Metis Nation British Columbia, the 25-year-old NextGen team member is one of 11 apprentice coaches selected to attend the Canada Winter Games through the Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program. She last attended the Games as a short track athlete at Prince George 2015, earning top-10 finishes in the 500m (6th), 3000m Point Race (6th) and women’s relay (5th).

“Being at the Canada Winter Games as an apprentice coach through the Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program has been an amazing experience so far,” said Desmarais following Tuesday’s long track races in Halifax. 

“I’ve been a speed skater for years and competed at every level – from interclub to international, in both long and short track – so it would be easy for me to feel that I already know how to coach, but shadowing Cristina Lazarescu and Phil Riopel from Team Alberta and experiencing this level of competition as a coach has given me new insight into what it takes to support athletes at this level.”

Organized in collaboration with the Canada Games Council, Coaching Association of Canada and Aboriginal Sport Circle, the Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program provides the opportunity for each province and territory to send two coaches of First Nations, Metis and Inuit ancestry to the Canada Games in apprentice coach roles. The purpose of the program is to build coaching capacity within Indigenous communities by providing Aboriginal coaches with multi-sport games experience and exposing them to other high-performance coaches.

In addition to gaining valuable, hands-on experience at the Games, Desmarais, a who recently earned her Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Health Physiology at the University of Calgary, is also receiving support and mentorship from several coaches as she works to complete her NCCP Competition-Development certification, which would set her up to continue coaching at this level in the future.

Desmarais began skating at age eight and made it all the way to the national short track team, representing Canada at three World Cups during the 2018-19 season and brining home bronze as a member of the women’s 3000m relay team at her first career event in Calgary.

She transitioned to long track following the season, and after a few years of pandemic-related challenges, made her international long track debut in December at the ISU Four Continents Speed Skating Championships, winning bronze in the 1500m and Team Sprint. She also skated at a pair of ISU World Cups in Calgary, finishing 27th and 37th in the 1500m.

“Being an active athlete makes it hard to balance coaching with my own training, but through the whole process I’ve received tremendous support from Speed Skating Canada, Speed Skating Alberta and the coaches with the Olympic Oval program to make sure I make the most of the experience without compromising my training,” added the 25-year old, who still has a pair of national level competitions remaining this season. 

“While I am still focusing on my own skating career at the moment, I am excited to blend my learnings from this experience with my own as an athlete to become a better coach, skater and person.”

Desmarais and her Team Alberta skaters – who have won six medals so far – are in action Thursday and Friday at the Emera Oval in Halifax. Information and live streaming scheduled can be found on Speed Skating Canada’s Canada Winter Games event page.