Whistler, B.C.- Sliding head first down ice tracks around the world, Jane Channell has always moved fast. A former track athlete at Simon Fraser University, she discovered skeleton over a decade ago, and as she heads into her 10th year in the sport, her time at the Burnaby, BC school is still clear in her mind.
Growing up in North Vancouver, Channel was always an active kid. From running track to playing T-Ball, basketball and even volleyball, she was always staying active. When she reached the later years of High School, she focused on track and softball, the natural progression from early childhood T-Ball. Both sports eventually led her to university on a scholarship at SFU, and after that, to the national skeleton team.
Skeleton was not on the radar when Channell began at SFU, nor was what she wanted to study; however, choosing the school was simple. “There was an element of not knowing what I wanted to do, being close to home but also away, and the track team,” she said over the phone. The North Vancouverite had her heart set so much on SFU that she did not apply to other schools or even visit the Burnaby campus; she knew that it was where she wanted to be.
As her time at SFU came to a close, she looked for ways to stay in sport but was not sure how until the idea of skeleton popped up. Over a decade later, she has proven that beginning a sport after university is entirely feasible. “There are so many options outside of university sports, and university athletics can be just a bridge to the next step, so I would encourage athletes to research and find out the other sports that are available,” she said, just as she did with sliding.
As a sport, skeleton has a very different feel than the team-based sports she had played in the past. “With softball, your direct actions directly affect your teammates, same with a relay in track and field. You rely on and have to trust your teammates to succeed,” she said; however, some of the lessons translate to skeleton. Through her other sports, she learned valuable skills to handle individual situations. On top of that, she now has the camaraderie and pride that is representing her country.
Although skeleton is individual, relay races bring back team memories for Channell. At the 2020 World Championships in Altenberg, Germany, she missed out on a first-place by one-hundredth of a second in a relay alongside veteran teammate Dave Greszczyszyn. Still, the moment, although so close to a win, stands out to her. “Relays take me back; they’re so much fun. Just that feeling of wanting to do well because of that other person,” she said. “ It was an incredible feeling to get to experience that with a teammate and a friend.”
Student-Athlete lessons and COVID training
Days after the races in Altenberg, COVID-19 hit, changing the plans for the offseason and the beginning of the World Cup season. With worries about the virus, no Canadian athletes, other than Elisabeth Maier, have competed in the first few months of the IBSF season, which was moved entirely to Europe for 2020-21.
With limited training options in the summer and a lack of fall racing, Channell turned to her work, balancing her training and work life, a skill she learned at SFU. “I’m pretty much working full time, and juggling skeleton and work has allowed me to have that distraction, so I’m not overthinking things,” she said. At SFU, she focused on managing her time and setting priorities with athletics, academic and personal life, making sure she balanced everything. Now, in a strange year, those skills have come to the forefront.
She has split the last several months between Calgary and Whistler, the only two places in Canada with sliding facilities. Calgary was the summer home, while Whistler the winter for the beginning of the season. Training in Calgary’s refrigerated ice house, she and other Canadians worked on their push-starts. In Whistler, training on the only full-track in Canada has been essential ahead of the team’s abbreviated season. “We’re fortunate enough that Whistler has opened its doors to us to continue to train while maintaining everyone’s safety.”
Between balancing her work, skeleton and other stresses of a COVID world, Channell has also been able to use this time to hopefully improve her finishes on the World Cup circuit. ”It [the offseason] has allowed me the time to focus on my weaknesses to make them my strengths. It’s something that I’ve wanted, and now that I have the opportunity,” said Channell. “Just getting that extra ice time in Whistler to do some research on equipment and what works and what doesn’t, I can apply that to the other tracks.”
With extra training in her back pocket, increased knowledge of equipment and a more balanced life, Channell is excited to get back into racing for the first time since March. However, it is not without some nerves. “I’ll be heading over to Europe, and the thought of being so far from home with coronavirus, all the what-ifs are adding up,” she said, but at 32-years-old, she knows she has to focus on the things in front of her that she can control.
Season starting soon
It has been difficult for the North American athletes to miss the beginning of the IBSF season, but with the extra time, Chanell is thrilled to be headed over to Europe for the rest of the World Cup circuit. After missing the World Championship win in less time than one can blink, she has some unfinished business she wanted to get done before the 2022 Olympic season. Although she is a long way away from softball and track at SFU, her time there is still helping her as she approaches one of the most challenging seasons yet.
The first BMW IBSF World Cup race of the season featuring Canadians is set for Jan. 8, 2021, in Winterberg, Germany, although there is no confirmation of Channell’s start yet.
Cover Photo: The Canadian Press