Big Engines and Big Hearts: Nordiq Canada’s 2023 Award Winners
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much – Helen Keller
There are universal qualities and motivators behind the outstanding achievements of this year’s Nordiq Canada award winners – their love of sport, a strong sense of community, the wish to make a difference in the lives of those around them, the desire to have fun, and an endearing humbleness on the impact their contributions have on the ski community.
“A big engine and a big heart,” is how Dave Dyer, Nordiq Canada’s 2023 Dave Rees Award winner, describes the thousands of people who participate in and drive the sport of cross-country skiing.
Dave is the embodiment of someone with a big engine and a big heart.
Often found in the heart of the action, Dave’s contributions to the sport are countless. Whether at a local club jackrabbit event, the Canada Winter Games, a National Championships, or a domestically hosted World Cup; for the past 40 years Dave’s caring, thoughtful manner along with his negotiation and mediation skills have directed, shaped, and touched every aspect of cross-country skiing in Canada. From his roots as a club coach, his passion for sport, combined with his desire to get out on the road and meet people, took him on a path from provincial Jackrabbit program development to national programming as Director of Events with Nordiq Canada.
Over the span of his career, Dave contributed over and above the expectations of a volunteer and an employee to the benefit of the ski community.
“Dave’s plate was always overflowing as a staff member, so he volunteered the additional time needed to get the job done,” says long-time race official Al Maddox. “Retirement did not end his commitment to hosting events. Dave just keeps on giving back to the sport.”
“If you don’t roll up your sleeves and get involved, things don’t tend to happen,” explains Dyer on his extraordinary commitment to the sport. “Doing stuff for the community just makes sense. There’s a pride in ownership. Cross-country skiing is a sport where you can have a positive influence and impact.”
A sentiment supported by Andrea Stapff, one of the 2023 Firth Award winners. Stapff has an Olympic legacy in rowing but has made an impact on cross-country skiing that is equally impressive.
The Head Coach of the Strathcona Nordic Ski Club, located on Vancouver Island, was gobsmacked by the nomination.
“Accepting an award is a challenge. It’s not about me. It’s about the contribution you can make. The impact you can have on people so they can live in a positive way,” says Stapff.
Coaching for 40+ years in various sports at the local, national, and international level, Stapff uses her love and enthusiasm for sport to support and transform the lives of people around her. “Sport is a medium for creating great people. It’s about learning a skill and becoming resilient through integrity, and working hard.”
Not all of it is about hard work. “I love the ‘Ah ha!’ moments,” adds Staph. “It’s fun when a skier at any age gets a new concept. It’s fun helping people learn how to have fun and become better people.”
Masters athlete Gillian Clayton agrees. “Being coached by Andrea was a fun challenge. I liked being there. She helped me feel in place, rather than out of place. She’s a gift to our community. We take for granted those who are truly excellent because we assume they’ll always be there.”
On the other side of the country, Club Les Aventurieres de Charlo in New Brunswick has their own inspirational role model, Claudette Maltais, also a 2023 Firth Award recipient. Known for her willingness to learn, mental and physical toughness, determination, and inexhaustible ‘joie de vivre’, Charlotte was introduced to cross-country skiing in her early 30’s and hasn’t stopped giving back to the sport since.
Training as a competitive master’s athlete for 30 years, Claudette spread her love for the sport to those around her, working tirelessly as a head coach for provincial team events, officiating, and stepping up to coach wherever it was needed in cross-country, Para nordic, and biathlon.
“If kids have an interest in the sport, we have to give them a chance even if it’s just taking them out for a ski,” says the ever-smiling Maltais. “Going out to help is fun. It’s a sharing and transfer of a passion you have with someone else.”
Former team club member, Philippe Levesque was a recipient of Maltais’ enthusiasm for the sport. “Claudette has the skills and love to pass on her passion to young people. She was always there for me and generous with her time so we could complete across New Brunswick and Quebec.”
In pursing her own success as a competitive athlete, Maltais stays focussed on a key aspect of the sport. “Ski because you want to ski. Don’t think about competitions; do it because it’s fun. The main thing is to have fun. “
Rod Sompii, Nordiq Canada’s recipient of the Distinguished Volunteer Award is all for bringing fun to the sport. The Chief of Timing extraordinaire would don a ‘Cat in the Hat’ toque to bring humour to the youth races. After 25 years of volunteering, Sompii is hanging up his hat.
His outstanding volunteer contributions began as a Jack Rabbit parent volunteer, then progressed to taking on every role on the club board; including the presidency, where he shifted the culture to an athlete-centred focus, enabling all athletes to ski at the level they wanted.
With his technical background, it was a natural for Sompii to slip into race timing where he become a pioneer in modern race timing systems.
“2006 Nationals was the most interesting challenge,” recalls Sompii of the first time he took on the Chief of Timing role. “I had only done one provincial race prior to the event. I was totally scared. Every procedure was written out and practiced. I was nervous the entire time. It was trial by fire.”
That trial by fire solidified Sompii’s expertise in race timing. Never looking back, he become Chief of Timing for every local, provincial, and national race in Thunder Bay, eventually landing him a timing role at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
“It’s an interesting challenge and way to give back for the support my son received as a competitive skier,” says Sompii of his volunteer commitment to the sport. “It’s the best sport in world.”
Dyer sums up the heroic commitment by this year’s award winners. “Traipsing in the snow at minus 15, that builds bonds. There’s a feeling of accomplishment that you’ve made a difference in the lives of the volunteers, and supporting athletes uniquely committed to giving it their all – if a person has the heart to do it, they’ll give 100-110%.” Big engines and big hearts.
David Dyer – Dave Rees Award winner
Andrea Stapff – Firth Award winner
Claudette Maltais– Firth Award winner
Rod Sompii – Distinguished Volunteer Award winner
Pembroke Management – Sponsor of the Year Award winner
Chris Dornan – Media Recognition Award winner
Author: Cindy Chetley