BY AISLINN CORNETT

Before 52-year-old Barry Sugden took up speed skating 10 years ago, he was “one of those typical middle-aged men ready for a heart attack”.

Now, not only is he a well-known Yukon athlete and member of the Whitehorse Rapids Speed Skating Club (WRSSC), but a Canadian record holder in the Masters 3 category’s 777 and 1000-metre events as placed at the annual RU Fast Competition in Calgary last February.

“I told my wife, I’m having a midlife crisis. It’s either the Harley or the skates,” he says on the purchase of his first pair of custom fits. Good thing Sugden opted for the skates, because his dedication and hard work have definitely paid off.

Sugden’s attention to technical detail — as well as a combination of peak physical condition, a great training program and prime ice — are what he attributes to his Canadian record success last season.

He says the key is keeping your upper body relaxed and loose while the lower body does the work.

“It’s a combination of relaxation and power,” he explains. “An efficient transfer.

“Age is against me at this point and I’m going downhill, but I still think I can improve by improving my technique.”

The modest short-track athlete will be more distracted this year as he’s also an official, or “track steward,” for several 2009 events including the RU Fast.

Grandfather and father of five, Sugden discovered the sport “standing around drinking coffee” and watching his son skate laps. He considers speed skating to be a lifesaver.

“It’s one of those stories,” he says. “It was almost accidental. I found an exercise that I liked to do, I got into it and the weight dropped off.”

Currently weighing 180 pounds, it’s hard to imagine the 240-pound-former-self that Sugden describes.

“My nickname was Boomer when I first started,” he says. “I was used to hockey skates and when I tripped and fell into the boards you could hear this big ‘boom’ because I was so heavy.”

The nickname has since been dropped as he “thankfully doesn’t fall quite as often” as he did during his early days.

While Sugden, who has worked for NorthwesTel for over 20 years, doesn’t have too many bad days at work, he finds speed skating to be a wonderful stress reliever.

He gets “into the zone” by staying calm, visualizing and recreating positive feelings. He describes speed skating as kinaesthetic feedback.

“If it’s going right, it feels right.”

His weekly training regime includes three practices at the Canada Games Centre as well as three to four lunch-hour workouts at Peak Fitness Gym. There, he can train specific skating muscles like his quads and gluteus: “One of the things my wife is quite happy about,” he says laughing.

The 30 km/hr speeds might look intimidating, but Sugden says you don’t have to be a professional to come out and try the sport.

“I could hardly stand on those skates when I started out, but it’s like anything, you stick with it and practise and, before you know it, you’re the Canadian record holder.”

PHOTO: BRENDAN PRESTON brendan.t.preston@gmail.com