Four years ago, cross-country skier Mackenzie Grove was robbed of a Canada Winter Games berth due to a knee injury. Now, she’s back racing at her best and ready for redemption.
The Flin Flon Ski Club athlete, who is currently attending the University of Alberta Augustana and working toward a bachelor’s degree in physical education, was named one of five Team Saskatchewan skiers for the upcoming Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.
Back in 2014, Grove earned a podium finish at the Western Canadian Championships and was placing strongly in Sask Cup races.
“I was really looking forward to the Canada Winter Games and making the team seemed like a sure thing,” she said.
Then, months before the Games, Grove suffered a knee injury. Not only did she miss the event, her injuries kept her off the racing circuit for two seasons after going under the knife twice.
This time around, Grove is calling her next shot at Canada Winter Games glory her “redemption round.”
“This time, it isn’t about winning. I’m training hard to prove to myself that I’ve come full circle, and when the time comes, I’ll leave it all on the trail,” she said.
Despite coming into the event with a sense of purpose, Grove has modest expectations. She doesn’t anticipate being a medal prospect, but hopes she can find a way to finish ahead of the pack. A multi-sport athlete in cross-country running, indoor track and field and skiing, Grove has broken her own personal bests on the trail this year on both skis and shoes. She also has a number of races scheduled before heading to Red Deer, including the Western Canadian Championships in Kelowna.
During the final trial race for Team Saskatchewan last month, Grove caught up to her main rival, whittling down a 30-second lead to pass her on the final climb.
“I wanted to win so badly that I just kept hunting her down. When I finally caught her on the last big climb, I knew that I had made the team. There was no way she would be able to drop me by 30 seconds before I hit the line. I crossed the finish line with my face covered in ice and my mind racing. I felt very accomplished and excited,” she said.
Until this past year, Grove was a part of the Augustana nordic skiing team. The team was cut by the school last year, citing budget concerns. Undeterred, Grove and her teammates, along with school alumni, members of the Camrose Ski Club and other boosters, have formed a club nordic team. The squad no longer has a full-time coach or support for races from the school.
“This has been a lot of work,” said Grove. “No longer able to afford a full-time coach, us athletes have been running our own practices, providing our own race support and coaching the Camrose Ski Club’s junior racers and adult ski lessons programming.
“We have used the rebuild as an opportunity to develop a club that reflects our sport for life values.”
Grove also sits on the college’s campus recreation committee and hopes to launch a nordic ski loan program for Augustana students, the first of its kind in North America, as far as anyone on campus can find.
“Long story short, our program was cut, but we are back and fighting hard to build skiing in Camrose,” she said.
Grove has deep roots in Flin Flon skiing. Her father, Dean, is the current president of the Flin Flon Ski Club and other members of her family, including mother Penny, are avid skiers.
“My parents had me on skis as soon as I could walk. I have countless memories of shuffling down the lake in the dark, working my butt off to keep up to them,” she said.
When asked about the role volunteers and the ski club had in her development, Grove credited the coaches and enlistees who keep the club running.
“My dad and coaches such as Brett Unrau and Bob Jarvis spent a lot of time working with me on and off the snow, driving me to out of province races, waxing my skis and cheering me on. They stood behind me whether I was on a podium or on crutches. Flin Flon and other northern ski clubs are made up of hearty, extremely hardworking, lifelong athletes that have inspired me,” she said.
“My dad has probably been my biggest influence. He would finish work, coaching and a meeting and then head out for a 15 kilometre ski in minus-35 weather.”