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  • Candace Boechler

Connections and Community in Speed Skating

John Monroe is the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) Sports Chair for short-track speed skating. He credits the success of this week’s events to the people around him. This includes officials from the North West Territory, Yukon, Nunavut, and Alberta. It also includes the volunteers. It includes General Manager Kevin Sommer's team at Eagle River's Mac Centre. AWG alumni Andy Kelly, whose Dad Tim coached Team Alaska, was one of the first volunteers to get involved. He signed up as a track steward. So did AWG teammate Joe Fish. Joe kept the water buckets filled for floods between races and presented ulus on the podium.

Upon reflection, Assistant Referee David Gilday says, "Tim Kelly was great." His passing created a hole in a lot of people’s lives.” He was also an “amazing cyclist; on-road, back-country, and fat tire. He cycled all seasons.” One of his cycling buddies was Joe Fish. When David needed studded fat tires, he asked Joe for a recommendation. Joe told him that Tim rode on ‘Cake Eaters’. Without hesitation, that’s what David purchased. He says “If they were good enough for Tim, they were good enough for me.”

The Alaska Speedskating Club presents the Kelly Family Award, for long-term commitment. Chuck Gilbert is the most recent recipient. He has been on the board and volunteering for decades. He was also on the official timing deck this week for the AWG. Dr. Charles Hansell has retired. He has dedicated many years to speed skating in Anchorage. He's even known to drive the Zamboni. But this week he was on skates with a squeegee, spreading water to keep the track safe.

John Monroe’s connection to skating fast and turning left goes deep. He was the assistant coach of the US National Short Track Speed Skating team. He coached Team Netherlands at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He also helped to create Canada's speed skating athlete development model. John comes from a competitive cycling background. He first laced up speed skates at 22. At that time, the head protection was capped with strips of leather. He went on to win two medals at the Canadian Short Track Speed Skating Championships. He was also crowned the 1990 North American Short Track Champion. John was also on the Canadian Inline Speed Skating Team for five years. Then, he switched from athlete to coach. He coached the Canadian Inline Speed Skating Team at the 1999 Pan-American Games.

Fun fact! John’s inline speed skating teammate was future Olympian Clara Hughes.

Since 2006, Peter Haeussler has coached Team Alaska. His wife Katie was a medical volunteer rinkside this week. Their children also competed at the AWG. Ben was in Iqaluit in 2002, Hannah in Kenai in 2006, and Kara in Grande Prairie in 2010. Peter also put on the Team Alaska skinsuit and speed skates Friday afternoon for a fun skate. Kevlar lines the skinsuit for cut protection. Team Alaska Coach John Katz Brown joined him. Also, there were coaches Martine Dupont and Hailey Roberts of Team Nunavut. Plus, Phil Hoffman of AWG 2026 hosts Team Yukon and Owen Cook of Team Alberta North. Owen’s daughter Leila earned a Gold Ulu in the Under 15 Girls 3000m team relay. They broke a record that someone had held for 18 years. His co-coach Hailey Winnicky-Lewis was an AWG athlete in Whitehorse in 2012. She says she is happy to see the "improvement and dedication" the athletes have shown over the past year. Team Alberta North won 14 Ulus (4 gold, 4 silver, 6 bronze) and had 9 top-five finishes. They also set new AWG records. Jane Lynch set the record in the Girls U15 400m. Ola Gawlak set records in the 500m and 1000m. Ola was Team Alberta North’s flag bearer at the Closing Ceremonies.

Akutaq Williamson-Bathory of Team Nunavut now holds the record in the U19 Girls 500m. She also earned 4 Gold Ulus. Lochlan Dunn of Team Northwest Territories set a new record in the U19 Boys 777m. He earned 4 Gold Ulus. His mom Jana officiated as Chief Lap Counter. Saiya McEachern of NWT set four new records for U15 Boys in the 400m, 500m, 1000m, and 3000m relay. He earned 5 Gold Ulus. His proud parents were at the Mac Centre to see it happen, as Dad Menzie was the Chief Place Judge. Seiya’s speed skating siblings were also fast on the Mac Centre ice. Brother Yuma earned 1 Gold and 2 Silver Ulus, and sister Maica earned 1 Gold, 1 Silver & 2 Bronze Ulus.

Announcer Candace Boechler and her husband Derek traveled from Grande Prairie to Mat-Su. They came to volunteer. They also came to cheer on their son Derian. He earned a Bronze Ulu in the team relay and a personal best 4th in the U19 1000m final. She agrees with John Monroe. They were reflecting on their week in the valley. "The people we connected with were amazing!" We’ve made so many fantastic new memories!” They’re already looking forward to Yukon 2026 and connecting with “friends we haven’t met


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