If you’ve seen a petite woman cross-country skiing around the Stettler schoolyard, then you probably witnessed Alberta 2011 55+ Winter Games gold medalist Bridie Forde in action.
And this is not the first time Forde has brought provincial gold medals.
The Northern Ireland born retired teacher started cross-country skiing when she moved with her family to Canada in 1967.
Her husband, retired French teacher Jim Forde, had a job in the small community of Maryfield, Sask.
One day, they were invited to a farm for lunch.
The family was outside, they had their horses and there was a person being pulled on skis by one of the horses,” remembered Forde.
“I thought okay, that’s kind of neat.”
Forde went to a cross-country skiing clinic in the Qu’Appelle Valley and learned the sport there.
Then, the family moved to Indian Head, Sask., where Bridie got a ski club going on.
“Some people even gave up curling to go cross-country skiing,” laughed Forde.
She finally got serious about cross-country skiing when the family moved to Stettler. She started doing the Canadian Birkebeiner cross-country ski marathon, a 55-kilometer ski run at Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area.
This year was her 19th time participating. She cross-country skis mostly in Camrose and Red Deer, since she prefers skiing on a track.
She has been competing in the Alberta 55+ Winter Games since 2005.
Another passion: Marathons
When the snow melts, Forde switches to running. She is not a technical runner, though. She does not follow a special diet, have a training plan or keep a log of her runs.
She qualified for the Boston Marathon at the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna, in October 2010.
The 66-year-old managed to knock 20 minutes off her time. She qualified for Boston with 7 minutes to spare.
“The Boston Marathon was something I always had in the back of her mind. I didn’t really train for it,” said Forde.
She will also participate in the Five Peaks Trail Running Series, which has five races scheduled in summer and early fall in Calgary, Canmore, Sundre, Canyon Ski Resort and Canmore.
Then, she will be at the Alberta 55+ Summer Games in Fairview in late July.
She started running in the early eighties, when the family would spend summers in Vancouver so that her husband Jim could do his masters degree.
“I can remember seeing or hearing an ad about this 10k run and I thought I’d like to do that,” said Forde.
While it was tough, she persevered.
“I would run to that letterbox and I would be huffing and puffing. I would take a rest and then I would run to that telegraph pole and that’s really how I got started.”
When she got back to Stettler after that summer, she realized that she could run for 20 minutes without stopping.
Her first marathon was the Red Deer Advocate Run, now called the Red Deer Woody’s RV World marathon.
“I can remember standing at the start line and thinking to myself that if my three sisters in Ireland could see me now, they would have told me that I was crazy,“ said Forde.
She has run 12 marathons so far and is gearing up for her 13th in Boston.
“It gets in your blood. It’s a way of life. I’ve always enjoyed it.”
When Forde runs a marathon, she alternates between running for 10 minutes and walking for one minute.
Forde maintains that she could not maintain her running and skiing schedule without the help and support of her husband.
“He does all the arranging on the computer. He books all the trips and he signs me up for marathons,” said Forde.
She is thinking about going to the World Masters Summer Games in Torino in August 2013.