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Another McKeever steps onto cross-country skiing's international stage

Xavier McKeever's earliest memory of cross-country skiing with his parents is being used as a training aid. Robin McKeever and Milaine Theriault towed their toddler instead of a tire up hills during workouts.

Xavier McKeever's earliest memory of cross-country skiing with his parents is being used as a training aid.

Robin McKeever and Milaine Theriault towed their toddler instead of a tire up hills during workouts.

"I'd be on my alpine skis and they'd tow me up and I'd ski down the hill," Xavier said. "That was pretty cool."

The 15-year-old from Canmore, Alta., will be among the youngest competitors, if not the youngest, at the world junior cross-country ski championships starting Sunday in Lahti, Finland.

"He is the youngest age that it is possible to go to world juniors," Robin said. 

Robin raced for Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, before guiding his visually-impaired brother Brian to 10 of his 16 career Paralympic medals.

Robin's wife Milaine cross-country skied for Canada in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, which were bookends to Xavier's birth in 2003.

"Xavvy was pretty much born on the World Cup circuit," Robin said.

Xavier will compete against skiers aged 19 and 20 in Lahti.

While he's not a hockey player skating into corners with males who have four and five years physical maturation on him, Xavier doesn't yet have the musculature to generate their power on skis.

"For sure being a younger age, I will be lacking in power compared to those guys, but also technique is a big factor in the racing and skiing," he said.

"My dad is really good coaching me in technique and always reminding me to do this and do that and improve. I feel like that's one of the things that will help me out."

Xavier's father and mother, however, actively steered him towards other sports.

Xavier swapped his cross-country skis for alpine planks for a year. He was also heavily into soccer and speedskating.

"When he was around three or four years old, he had so much energy we just had to put him in sport because he was driving us nuts," Theriault said.

"Robin and I made an effort for him to touch different sports. We just wanted him to find his way."

Xavier found his way to their sport. Robin said his son got there on his own by announcing other sports were taking too much time away from cross-country.

"I was still of the mindset he needs to remain multi-sport," Robin said. "And then I thought about what it is we do in cross-country.

"It's one of one of the best multi-sport available to kids because in the summer we bike, we run, we hike, we do a lot of different sports and call it training for cross-country skiing."

Seeing his father and uncle win a trio of gold medals at the 2010 Winter Paralympics, and watching Brian train for the 2014 Winter Games influenced Xavier's decision to devote his talents to cross-country.

"I was like 'man, this is really cool. I want to do this,'" the Grade 10 student said.

While Xavier met the criteria to be selected to Canada's team at trials races in December, he and his parents weren't sure Cross-Country Canada would take him to world junior championships because of his age.

When that call came, there was a family discussion.

"It's another level once you're there," Theriault said. "Yes, he can do well in Canada, but when you get over there internationally, Robin and I know it's a completely different game.

"He's quite mature. I don't know if it's because he's an only child, but he told me 'mom, I've been waiting for this for so long.'

"He's already I think better than Robin and I were at that age for sure. He's on his own pathway and we're just there to veer him right or left sometimes, but he has to be a teenager too."

Xavier tagged along with Robin and Brian to off-season training in New Zealand for eight summers of his life.

"What has set him apart as a young child to now is his technique has been extremely good," Robin said. "He's been around ski camps with his uncle Brian and myself and we're both kind of technique-nerds."

Xavier says soaking up the experience and skiing fast are his objectives at his first world junior championships.

"I'm not expecting anything big being this young," he said. "It's for me to see how good people are when they're that age and see what the up-and-coming skiers are like, so I can try to get to that level."

Remi Drolet of Rossland, B.C., Sam Hendry of Canmore, Alta., Pierrick Sarthou of Longueuil, Que., and Calgary's Tom Stephen join Xavier on Canada's men's team in Lahti.

The women's contingent includes Jasmine Drolet of Rossland, B.C., Isobel Hendry of Canmore, Alta., Molly Miller of Kimberley, B.C., Calgary's Anna Price and Anne-Marie Petitclerc of Beaupre, Que.

The world under-23 championships follow the juniors in Lahti.

The Canadian women's team is comprised of Marie Corriveau of St-Ferreol-Les Neige, Que., Natalie Hynes of Whitehorse, Hannah Mehain of Vernon, B.C. and Sadie White of Thunder Bay, Ont.,

Antoine Cyr of Gatineau, Que., Graham Ritchie and Julien Smith of Thunder Bay and Gareth Williams of Kelowna, B.C., round out the men's squad.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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