The Road to Italy….
Aaron Puskas of the Norwesters Alpine Club/LSDA is just home from a whirlwind trip to Italy for the weekend Alpecimbra FIS Children’s Races (U14 & U16). He was selected, along with 5 others to Team Canada, based on their outstanding performances at the recent Mackenzie U16 National Championships on his home hill, Loch Lomond. Considering this was his first taste of International racing we decided to ask some questions..What else does Aaron do? How did he get to be one of Ontario’s top U16 racer? How does his family/coaches support him? What are his goals in this sport?
We started with his family and were delighted to learn so much. We also asked his coach Matt Fisher and finally heard from Aaron himself. Thank you to “racer mom/surgeon” Tracy Wilson for helping to coordinate all of this. Let’s start with her….
When did it all start?
Aaron started skiing at age 3 and racing Nancy Green at 6. He followed his two brothers, Jake (4 1/2 yrs older) and Liam (2 1/2 yrs older). He was hooked immediately and loved skiing more than any other sport.
How have your other children influenced Aaron?
Jake and Liam both raced until second year U16, racing for Team Ontario at CANAMs most years. His brothers both loved skiing but found it hard to navigate ‘skiing at the next level’ while skiing in Thunder Bay. Jake (19 yrs) in the end chose football and plays for Queens University. Liam decided the path to CIS football was clear and will join his brother at Queens next fall playing Gaels football. Aaron followed his brothers watching all of their Provincial races, and often forerunning, and has never questioned his desire or ambition to ski race beyond U16.
Were you and your husband ski racers?
No but we are both heavily involved in sports and fitness. I grew up skiing at Mt Blanc, Quebec and Dave in Collingwood. We put our boys into Nancy Green in order to allow them to learn to ski… For life! What we got was three competitive racers!
Do you encourage other sports for your kids?
Yes! Aaron loves hard hitting, adrenaline rushing sports including football, water skiing, wake boarding, bare footing and wake surfing. Aaron has been courted by a few select football teams already but I have never seen the joy and intensity that he brings to his skiing.
What is his skiing schedule like now?
A typical ski week involves two hours of twilight ski race training Wednesday & Thursday and then full days Saturday and Sunday. In LSDA we don’t have a full Ontario race schedule so his team will fill the schedule in with one or two USSA races but often these kids arrive at provincials with only two to three races behind them.
Is it a challenge racing outside of SOD?
Yes somewhat, the biggest challenge has been exposure to consistent coaching and difficulty accessing large fields of competition. Although Aaron has been blessed having Matt coach him for at least four of his last 6 years. This makes the season difficult to plan for both coach and athlete and can leave these athletes out of a variety of training opportunities, and somewhat alienated.
I’m told you have the best trailer at the races.
Well we like it! Like so many other families ski racing has become a family passion and our tuning trailer – which many of you saw at Nationals – has become a family tradition at races… cook a steak; share a glass of wine, tune skis and swap racing stories with anyone and everyone who chooses to stop by! It’s definitely what we love about this sport!
What’s the key to Aaron’s success?
I have rarely seen a more dedicated, disciplined athlete! He loves racing and goes into every race as though it was a championship. I am sure this is the passion displayed by most young athletes at this level, but one that I have nary seen.
Your husband served in the military – did that mean long trips away?
Yes Dave served in the military during his undergrad and volunteered as a civilian surgeon for his first tour in 2007, then returned to the military for his second and third tours (2009, 2010). His tours were long and difficult for both him and our family but were life changing for us all! We will always live life thankful and feeling very blessed to be Canadian and live in a great, inclusive community like Thunder Bay!
Do yo want Aaron to continue to the next level?
As parents, we hope that Aaron will continue to race as long as he LOVES to race! We believe his potential is endless but realize that the traps and snares that end racing careers are many. We will support him always and love to see the smile on his face entering each competition!
Now from a coach’s perspective….we ask Matt Fisher, LSDA Division Team Head Coach a little bit about his athlete:
I’ve coached Aaron and several members of the division training group since the 2009/2010 season when I came to Thunder Bay for University. I spent one season in Revelstoke in 2015 but have been back with the team full time the last two seasons.
What kind of learner is Aaron? Easy to coach or hard?
Aaron seems to be dominantly a visual learner; he’s very dedicated and spends quite a lot of time watching video. He has had some really solid racers and coaches around (like North Johnson and Riley Remme) to chase more recently. He’s not always the easiest athlete to coach and we are constantly trying to challenge him. He’s a really awesome guy and understands that things are never perfect and we’re learning with him.
Lastly we finally caught up with Aaron upon his return from Italy:
Where do you see yourself going in the next 1-3 years?
I’d like my next 1-3 years of my ski career to be as safe and productive seasons as possible. By that I mean keeping my body healthy, staying ahead of school and trying to move my way up the “ranks” in terms of FIS points.
What about 4-6years?
Looking ahead I know it is a long journey so to have the best FIS points as possible so I have many options for future ski teams. Whether this is in the United States or with Alpine Ontario I don’t know. I’d love to be on the Ontario Development team or National Development team.
Has your coach helped with this year’s success?
Yes of course, I have been working with Matt since 2009 and he has been very critical to my development as an athlete on and off the hill. Over the course of our years of work together our friendship has grown stronger enabling a very effective and trustworthy coach-athlete relationship.
Results from Italy:
March 10th SL
7 – Alyssa Hill / Panorama
13 – Cassidy Gray / Panorama
20 – Avery Lebsack / Lake Louise
14 – Jeremy Laniel / BC Alpine
15 – Rapheal Lessard / Quebec
17 – Aaron Puskas/ NAC/LSDA AOA
March 11th GS
26 – Avery Lebsack
28 – Cassidy Gray
dnf- Alyssa Hill
6 – Jeremy Laniel
14 -Raphael Lessard
18 – Aaron Puskas