“It was a big challenge for me. It’s the first time I’ve run this distance since 2011, and it’s a race.
CANMORE – Exshaw’s Bill Hamilton wasn’t ready to compete at the 2022 Masters World Cup in Canmore.
At 86, with a sore back, a sore hip and less than ideal prep time, the longtime cross-country skier had every excuse to throw in the towel and just watch the event for cross-country skiers. 30+ years from the sidelines.
But for the lover of frozen trails, Hamilton would not have been satisfied with this alternative reality of not breaking the head. On March 11, Hamilton showed up at the Canmore Nordic Centre, cane in hand, determined to run.
“It was a big challenge for me,” Hamilton said. “It’s the first time I’ve run this distance since 2011, and it’s a race.”
Described as a local legend and a pillar of the community by his friend Gareth Thomson, Hamilton had a tough task ahead of him: 15 kilometers of Canada’s best northern trails where Olympians and Paralympians dedicate hours each season to preparing for the best world competitors. and he was still doing it while recovering from a broken back.
A freak accident in a remote cabin 10 years ago seriously injured Hamilton.
Alone in the backcountry of British Columbia, this avid skier was blazing his own cross-country ski trails to ski and train. While riding a snowmobile, a tree fell and hit Hamilton, knocking him unconscious and knocking him to the ground.
When he came to, Hamilton couldn’t get up, and the 200 yards from the cabin might as well have been 100 miles for the injured man. For three and a half hours, Hamilton painfully slid on his back through snow and brush, pushing with his heels before he could reach the cabin and call for help.
“That’s all I can say: what are the odds?” Hamilton talked about a falling tree hitting him on the snow machine.
Before the accident, Hamilton had practiced a lot of skiing and considered himself quite fast on frozen slopes, but since then it has been difficult.
“The following year I was skiing at the Canmore Nordic Center and the beginners were overtaking me,” he said. “I was there, I was putting 100 per cent effort into it and people were passing me by, so I took it from there.”
His road to recovery has taken him through exercises recommended by doctors and physiotherapists and has continued for the past 10 years, but he knows he will never be the same again.
Originally an alpine skier in Toronto, Hamilton turned to cross-country skiing just over four decades ago.
What brought him and his wife, Mary Squario, to Alberta was a longer ski season and more snow, first in Canmore in the 1980s and then in Exshaw.
Hamilton had been keeping tabs on the Masters’ arrival at Canmore, considering entering there. At first, the event was to take place in 2021, but was later moved to 2022 due to COVID-19.
He said he wasn’t ready in 2021, let alone 2022, but he’s improved a lot in the short time for the 85-plus class.
On race day, he even showed up with a cane due to hip pain.
“I didn’t want to put pressure on it, so a few ibuprofens and I were fine. There were a few other issues, but you don’t go through 86 years of life without issues,” Hamilton said.
The course Hamilton would run was three 5km loops.
He joked every 5k lap got harder and harder and he got slower and slower.
“The third time my body was screaming at me,” he said. “I remember one of the last hills and my body didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘come on we do it. We are almost at the top of the hill. I didn’t stop, but I was close. I was going very slowly, but I was working hard. … It was all I could get out of the body.
Hamilton finished fourth and the first and last Canadian to finish, he joked.
“It was a good day,” he added.
With over 700 athletes competing, the Masters World Cup took place March 4-11 at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Hamilton recognized those who helped make the event run smoothly for everyone.
“It was a great competition and these competitions always take volunteers,” he said. “They go out and freeze their butts while we skim our brains…those things don’t happen with them.”