Commander Park Arena is one of two homes to the Toronto Speed Skating Club (TSSC), where recreational and competitive skaters practise.
The TSSC is one of 27 clubs in Ontario that compete at national levels, and has trained many talented skaters. It takes time to get used to the techniques, but with practice one can pick up the pace.
“Just watching their commitment to train is incredible,” said coach Will Wallace, who has been with the TSSC since 2000. “Four times a week, they work hard, and then they produce these amazing things. It’s a beautiful sport. When you get someone understanding the ice, it’s great.”
Sisters Mila, 15, and Megan Abellera, 14, played hockey before they started practising with the TSSC. They both recently made it to provincial levels of competition, but learned it was more challenging than they originally thought.
“It’s like hockey,” Megan Abellera said. “I find it dangerous because you go so fast, and when you fall you hit the boards hard … And you don’t have much protection on.”
Intensity has not deterred the girls, however, as they both want to go on to higher levels of competition, perhaps even to the Olympics.
One thing the girls like about speed skating with the TSSC is that everyone is very friendly and supportive, even under competitive standards.
The other location for the TSSC to practise is at the Master Card Centre in Etobicoke, which has a larger rink than Commander Park’s. One of the difficulties for the club is getting enough ice time to practise, because they are often sharing schedules with hockey teams, along with other speed-skating teams. Wallace explained they just make do with what they are given.
“We don’t have the resources to get our own rink,” Wallace said. “We’re not of that scale yet. But it would be nice to be in a rink where we have more control over the ice. The ice here is very thick, and makes it hard to manage, with temperature and what not.”
The number of skaters is also taken into consideration, so that there is no overcrowding on the ice, and to give quality instruction to participants.
For coach Wallace, watching his students make progress is what makes all the difference.
“It attracts a really nice group of kids, who are serious about being athletes and understand they can go quite far in the sport. But it needs dedication.”