Speed skater has javelin ambitions

In four seasons of speed skating, Max Schonewille has shown that when it comes to trying to keep up to the fast guys in his age group, he can cut it.

This past winter, a fourth-place provincial result in short track and an eighth-place finish at the Canadian long track championships in Saskatoon confirmed the 13-year-old is on the right path with his blades.

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But now that spring is here, Schonewille is anxious to take another stab at a sport he discovered last year as a member of the Prince George Track and Field Club.

He was out practicing his javelin throws with the senior club members at Masich Place Stadium in the first outdoor session of the season last weekend.

Having recharged his batteries for three weeks since speed skating season ended, the Grade 8 student at Duchess Park secondary school can't wait to measure how much his throws have improved as a result of his training with the Prince George Blizzard Speed Skating Club.

While skating focuses mainly on developing leg and core strength, those muscles certainly come into play in javelin, discus, shot put and hammer throws. Schonewille has a strong upper body and was a bronze-medalist in javelin at last year's provincial high school championships. He plans to compete in all of the throwing events this year, starting with the first meet of the season on May 2, the Sub Zero meet at Masich Place Stadium.

"I want to get 40 metres this year in the javelin," said Schonewille. "I did 31 metres (at provincials) and beat my PB by six metres. That was the one thing I did good at, everything else I failed epically.

"You get really big legs in speed skating and you can use that for javelin. I'm looking forward to doing better in all the throwing events."

Cassaundra O'Brien, formerly of Quesnel, is back for a fourth season as the PGTFC throwing coach. The PGTFC throwing program traditionally doesn't attract a large group of athletes and this year, with only about six full-time throwers, the low numbers aren't likely to change, even with an influx of new members from Athletics North, a rival club in the city that folded after just one season.

The club does have a strong group of sprinters in Ryan Gaiesky, Lindsay King, Omar Medina, Shelby Jansen and Lauren Matheson, and mid-distance specialist Alex Nemethy of Vanderhoof is a provincial medal threat in the two-kilometre steeplechase and 3,000-metre run.

The early spring meant the track has been clear of snow for the past three weeks and for the first time in several years PGTFC members weren't forced to shovel it to begin their early-April outdoor workouts. Most of the athletes have been training indoors twice a week since January at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre.

The junior development (nine- to 12-year-olds) and Track Rascal (six- to eight-year-olds) groups start their workouts today and PGTFC head coach Brian Martinson said the focus will be on conditioning, running and throwing until the weather warms up enough to start practicing jumping and hurdles.

The club will have about 150 athletes training Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in a season which runs from April to mid-July. With the two clubs now amalgamated, Martinson is hopeful that will provide more parental involvement for the PGTFC to help organize the meets.

"Running a track club is labour-intensive - you need a lot of bodies," said Martinson. "(Athletics North) had some top-quality kids and you just concentrate your efforts and they will look good here and lead the way for some of our kids. It's all positive."

Martinson, a teacher at Prince George secondary school, knows all about the struggles of trying to attract student athletes to track and field. Meets like the north central high school championships, which used to bring in more than 500 athletes in the early-2000s, have seen registration plummet to as low as 109 a few years ago. It's a trend that shows no sign of reversing, with fewer students enrolled in area schools and more competition from other sports for those athletes.

"There are so many other things going on - you've got kids in school still playing basketball (and) volleyball. Soccer and lacrosse are starting up, and I know kids in football are still training in the high schools," said Martinson. "There's more competition for a dwindling pool of kids in sports and clubs. But we're doing alright."

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