This year marks an important milestone in the sports history of our community.
Sixty-five years ago, in 1952, the Red Deer Speed Skating Club (soon renamed the Central Lions Speed Skating Club) was formed. It has been a real powerhouse in Red Deer’s and Canada’s sports scene ever since.
The origins of speed skating in Red Deer actually go back to the turn of the last century. The first events were held at the old Red Deer Rink on Morrison (52) St.
Red Deer’s speed skaters excelled during the 1930s.
In 1935, at the provincial championships in Banff, Adelyne Stephenson won the silver medal in the 880-metre speed skating race, immediately after winning the gold medal as a member of the championship Amazons women’s hockey team. Her teammate, Evelyn Bond, also won the silver medal in the 440 speed skating event, despite having a sprained ankle.
Unfortunately, speed skating went into a hiatus during the Second World War. However, shortly after the formation of the Red Deer Recreation Commission, Pat Underhill organized the Red Deer Speed Skating Club.
The Red Deer Central Lions Club became sponsors in 1953.
That same year, Red Deer hosted the Alberta Indoor Speed Skating Championships in the newly-built Red Deer Arena. In 1955, Eddie Bownes, aged nine, became the first local national champion. The following year, Anita Comis won the national midget championship.
Meanwhile, the dynamic Pat Underhill moved to Dawson Creek, B.C. where she founded B.C.’s first speed skating club. In 1956, Bruno Comis agreed to become the volunteer coach for the Red Deer club.
In 1958, Comis successfully lobbied the City to build a high quality outdoor speed skating oval along the old CN right of way between 47 and 47 A Avenues.
He made an ice machine out of mobile cement mixer and personally flooded the oval to make sure that the ice was kept in top condition.
He also launched an intensive program of dryland training. One of his most successful techniques was having the skaters run up and down the 200 steps on the hill below old St. Joseph Convent. He added increasing numbers of weights to the vests of the athletes to further build their strength and stamina.
The Central Lions Club consequently continued to grow in prowess.
The skaters won a truly impressive number of provincial, national and North American championships and held all kinds of provincial, national and international speed skating records. Additionally, Red Deer won two national outdoor club championships.
In 1968, Marcia Parsons Beckner became the first Red Deer resident to compete in an Olympics when she went to Grenoble, France.
In 1972, Kevin Sirois, became the first local winter and summer Olympian when he competed as a speed skater at the Olympics in Sapporo, Japan and was named a member of the Canadian cycling team for the Munich Summer Olympics. Tragically, he was killed by a drunk driver while training along Hwy. 2 on Mother’s Day, 1972
In 1988, Red Deer club members broke eight national and 14 provincial records at the Calgary Olympic Oval. In 1996, Red Deer hosted Short Track ‘96, an event consisting of the Canadian Short Track Speed Skating Championships and the North American Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
The remarkable accomplishments of Red Deer’s speed skaters have continued.
For example, Jeremy Wotherspoon has won more World Cup victories than any other athlete (i.e. 67). Steven Elm broke three world records, and like Wotherspoon, is an Olympic speed skating medalist.
In 2013, Red Deer coach Shawna Pearman was named Speed Skating Canada’s female coach of the year.