Yellowknife speed skater Wren Acorn is back training in Calgary after having to abandon competition earlier this year due to COVID-19.
"It's so nice. I missed it," she recently told CBC.
Acorn was only two spots off the junior world cup team last year. She placed fourth in the 1,500-metre at junior nationals and third in the 1,500-metre at the Short Track Canada Cup 2 — both big qualifying events.
Acorn was about to go into her last meet of the season in March at the Canada Cup final in Calgary, when it was suddenly cancelled the night before due to the pandemic. She and her teammates had been training all year for that competition.
"I had actually skated the fastest lap time of my entire life that evening, before the competition, and right then I got the announcement that it would be cancelled."
I am anxious to get going again. - Wren Acorn, speed skater
Acorn said that was "pretty devastating," as it meant she wouldn't make it onto the national development team.
The 17-year-old headed home to Yellowknife. She said the pandemic did give her time to unwind, spend time with family and friends, and keep up with her online classes. Her training schedule makes it impossible to go to high school.
"I did take a bit of a longer break to combat some burnout this spring. That was necessary," she said.
"So COVID[-19] kind of afforded me a little bit of rest to spend more time in the North, but I am anxious to get going again."
Now, Acorn is back training with her teammates in Calgary at the Olympic Oval, but things still aren't quite the same.
Normally at this time of year, they're doing endurance relays, but they can't skate in groups due to COVID-19 restrictions. They're skating about four times a week, down from the usual seven or eight. They can't share equipment, they have to sanitize things like weights, and the rink minimizes the number of people who can come in.
"The whole training process has been quite different," she said.
Another hurdle is that the speed skaters don't know what's next. There may be competition this fall, but there's no guarantee. Without a set date, Acorn said it's hard to get in that competitive mindset.
"I have two more years as a junior level skater," she said. "Last year I was two spots off of the junior world cup team. I was hoping to make a play for it this year. We'll see if that happens."
Last year, Acorn travelled to Utah and Montreal for international meets, but those won't be going ahead this year due to border restrictions. If Canadian competitions do go ahead, she'd also have to travel alone. Due to strict requirements around large gatherings, spectators won't be allowed to attend meets, which means her mom will have to stay home.
"I'm just gonna have to get used to that with the big ones, where the pressure is on too," she said.
The important thing is to keep some balance in her life, she said. She and her teammates are making the most of their time in Calgary, getting outdoors as much as they can, while they wait and see what the season will bring.
"I'm just trying to stay motivated and do things for myself that are good not only for training, but also for the mind and soul," Acorn said.
"My life can't just be about eating and sleeping and training."