There are people in this town who seem destined to want to go faster, higher, stronger. Sheena Tremblay, the highest trained active female ski coach in the territories, is one of them.
Don’t let her quiet, humble demeanor fool you. Behind that shy smile is one highly competitive person.
“I pretty much just wanted to go fast since I was a little kid,” says the 30-year-old female coach of the Yellowknife and NWT High Performance Cross Country Ski Team. Since she was a tiny tot, her parents had her out most every weekend at the old ski club, participating in the jackrabbits program.
“Even when it was cold, we still skied. I don’t remember practice or lessons ever being cancelled. And I just wanted to keep up with everyone, all the older skiers who were in high performance, I wanted to ski like them.” By the time she reached Grade Six, she was.
From that point on, Tremblay was peeling around local trails in the high performance program, which trains athletes to compete at top-level races. During her high school years at Sir John, she also began helping those little skiers struggling their way up the hills as jackrabbits.
Along the way, she competed in three Arctic Winter Games and two Canada Winter Games, as well as a slew of national, provincial and territorial competitions.
There were Olympic aspirations for a while too.
“I considered just skiing full-time, moving to Canmore (Alberta),” she says, “ but I decided to do other things then.”
She’s an avid traveller with a fitness level that helped her hike to the base camp of Mount Everest, and she never passes up the opportunity to go snowboarding.
In keeping with her passion for the outdoors, she went to Mount Royal University in Calgary to study ecotourism and outdoor leadership. While there, she started ski instructing and helped get a jackrabbits program going. When she returned to Yellowknife in 2009, she landed a job with the NWT Recreation and Parks Association, where she’s now the active communities coordinator. Almost immediately she was back at the ski club, assisting coach Corey McLachlan with the high performance team. They were soon joined by Mike Argue.
“Mike brings a lot to the ski team,” says Tremblay. “He has tons of experience as a racer being at the higher level competitions and it’s great with the ski team to have a male and female coach.”
The job is not without its challenges. It’s volunteer. There are two-hour practices four days a week. She’s got to be motivated herself, in order to motivate the athletes to get moving in the cold, and then, there are the smells.
“While travelling, and basically living with teenagers on ski trips, there are definitely some funny smells. I guess a better word would be funky. I think I’ve experienced all kinds of odours, from smelling sweaty bodies, clothes and equipment to passing gas.”
But travel is also a highlight of the job. This year she and Argue are taking over the reins from longtime coach Corey McLachlan and next March, they’ll take the team to Greenland for the Arctic Winter Games. “I went as an athlete and now I’m going as a coach.”
That continuity is paying off in other ways too.
“The best part of coaching is seeing the kids, or the athletes, grow, and not just as skiers, but also as people. I would not be skiing today, or as active, if it wasn’t for skiing at a young age and the jackrabbit program.”
Tremblay says cross-country sometimes gets a bad rap because it’s physically demanding and people get scared because of the weather.
“Cross-country skiing is such a full-body workout that as long as you dress properly it’s pretty easy to stay warm, even at cold temperatures. I think it’s too easy to hibernate in the winter. It is hard work, but I promise, it is tons of fun.”
What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?
I remember my street and driveway being paved and we could use our bikes. I can remember when School Draw was gravel.
What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?
The easy access to being able to do activities outside in the bush.
What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?
I could do with less -40 days and my least favourite thing I think is that it takes so long to get to mountains, because I also like mountains. I snowboard. I don’t really do that here but when I’m down south I’ve often tacked on a snowboard trip after coaching in Canmore or somewhere like that, close to the Rockies.
What do you do in the summer?
As much as I can outside, enjoying the weather, canoeing, kayaking, camping, barbecues with friends, fishing, anything outside.
What do you do in the winter?
Winter seems to be the busy season for me, but beside coaching the ski team I also do a lot of baking and going to the gym and hanging out with friends, I travel a lot for work so I’m busy doing that stuff.
What opportunities do you find in Yellowknife that you don’t find elsewhere?
I think growing up here there’s a lot of opportunities to travel and I think that even though we’re smaller, there’s still a lot of opportunities to do anything you’re interested in, for sports, or the arts.
Are you a Yellowknife lifer?
I think so. Yellowknife will always be my home and I purchased a house a year ago so… but I do like to travel, so as long as I can still go on trips.