Petr Jakl, a former elite-level cross-country skier, has been coaching the winter sport for more than three decades. Recently, he decided to start his own program aimed at those interested in taking cross-country skiing seriously.
“Our philosophy is to start seriously from a pretty early age,” says Jakl. “Kids need to think seriously about development early on and be in a structured program by the time they’re 10, if possible.”
Over his 30 years of coaching and training athletes, Jakl has been exposed to many different types of programs. “I have lots of experience from lots of clubs: European, U.S., Australian, Canadian … I just wanted to run a club my own way.”
So, he started the Lifeski Academy Ski Club. While the club is small, it is already proving to be mighty. After its young athletes enjoyed success on the local Southern Ontario circuit this winter, seven of the skiers, competing in various age divisions, shone at the recent Eastern Ontario Championship held in Gatineau, Quebec.
Anna Jaklova led the way for her father’s team, winning two gold medals and a silver medal in the midget age group for skiers aged 12-13. Jaklova skied to first-place finishes in the 3-K Prologue (classic technique,) and the 6-K Classic. She finished second in the 5-K Free.
“I felt really proud of myself,” said Jaklova. “I was actually surprised that I got first. I was very happy.”
After dominating the local circuit, she was also happy to be pushed. “It was more difficult because there was actually competition there and I was happy to know someone could beat me,” she said. “Now I know there is some competition in Ontario. That definitely pushes me.”
The Grade 7 Regent Park Public School student admits she’s “very competitive.” She is involved in multiple sports and plays basketball for her school and is also a member of their cross-country running team. But her passion is skiing.
“I started skiing when I was about a year old and before that (my parents) pushed me in a carriage on the trails,” she said. “I love to ski … I just like being with my friends and I love being outside, in the snow and cold … it’s fun.”
Those words are music to her father’s ears. He would love to see other youngsters fall in love with the sport at an early age. “Ideally, they should be out five times a week, on snow, practicing,” said Jakl, whose wife, Kate, is also a coach for the club. But school schedules and early nightfall make that impossible. “Right now, we meet Wednesdays after school and then Saturdays and Sundays” at the club’s unofficial headquarters at Horseshoe Valley Resort.
“The challenge is winter is more about racing than practicing, which is not ideal,” said Jakl, noting the club’s skiers are competing most weekends. “Ideally, we want our athletes to basically train year-round.”
Jakl, a registered massage therapist, is a former physical education teacher. “We just want to see the kids develop. We want to gain and gather those talents together, see chemistry on the team and have a healthy competition … that’s what we’re looking at.”
With seven young skiers and several masters skiers, the club has a healthy mix of age and ability, he said. “We are capable of accommodating everyone who wants to ski. We can offer a structured daily program as part of a coaching package that is appropriate to any age and any level.”
In addition to Jaklova’s medal-winning performance, other Lifeski Academy athletes also shone. Cooper DeHaan finished 11th in the 5-K Free among midget boys, while his twin brother, Tilson was 15th in the 3-K Prologue Classic. Erin Doble, also competing in the midget age group, finished 21st in the 3-K Prologue Classic. Andrew Bougai, a peewee (aged 10) raced in the midget category and finished 23rd in the 3-K Prologue Classic, while Robert Bougai finished 37th among juveniles in the 7.5-K freestyle. Roxy Welsh finished 18th in the 6-M freestyle event.
With their strong results, Doble and Robert Bougai qualified for the Ontario Winter Games.
“The only way to build a program is to start small and to start with the basics,” said Jakl. “At Easterns, we showed we are on the right path.”
For more information about the club, its programs and philosophy, visit lifeski.com.