It's about 8 p.m. and the air is crisp and cold. Racers look down at their frozen roller coaster, metres and metres of sharp corners and layers of ice. A five-second warning goes off, and the lit-up track almost sparkles as competitors look side-to-side at their fierce opponents.
For racers like Fannie Desforges, the pumping-up process starts with the loud music, the adrenaline running through their body suits and the screaming spectators banging boards against the slopes below them.
"It's pretty crazy," says Desforges. "You can't be scared. If you are scared, the track will eat you up."
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Desforges is one of the many female athletes who have competed in the Red Bull Crashed Ice race, a tough 400 to 600-metre ice obstacle course with bumps and jumps that encourage speeds up to 60 kph on skates — similar to ice cross downhill.
There have been 34 races since 2001, and eight of them have been exclusively for women. Female athletes from Canada, along with those from Sweden, Finland and the U.S. (among other countries) compete globally, with an average of 20 to 25 women at each race. The men's race portion includes a point system and final round, while women only have one chance to beat the fastest time.
On March 12, many Canadian women will take their spots at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton for this year's race.
Desforges, who won't have a chance to race this year due to a scheduling conflict with her hockey team, The Montreal Stars, says she first participated in 2011 through a registration and audition system. Although there is just one female race during the competition, she hopes more will be added as interest grows.
"The guys can go higher technique wise, but we are just as equivalent," she says. "There are also fewer women who are willing to try this event and the pool range is a lot less than men."
With recent empowerment campaigns including the #LikeAGirl movement from Always that urges girls (and boys) to "play like a girl," Karin Lofstrom of Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity says it will take a variety of campaigns like this one to get people's attention to have more women in sport.
"We want girls to be empowered to participate in sport, build their self-esteem and confidence in what they are doing," she says.
But in the meantime, Desforges says a race like this gives her the chance to bond with other female athletes, test her body and be a good role model for other girls. With her daytime job as a teacher, she says she constantly tries to encourage her female students to get involved in sports.
Below, we talked to five women who have either competed in the Crashed Ice race or who will be competing this week in Edmonton.
Fannie Desforges, 25, of Ottawa
Why do you race? I race in this majestic event because it is an adrenaline rush. This is a sport that gets you out of your comfort zone and allows athletes to reach a new level of difficulty.
Tell us about the hard days: The hardest days are the ones leading up to the event because you feel stress and excitement, but you also need to make sure you refuel and rest your body properly to allow it to perform at its full potential. The practice days are tough – sometimes you fall and make mistakes, but thankfully you learn from them.
What's training like? Training for this event involves numerous months of hard work and visits to the gym per week. It really is a full-time job. You need a solid core; it is the centre of all movements allowing you to keep your balance in the air and on the track as well as to recover from a fall. A strong lower body is also important; you need to ensure you have an explosive start.
Jacqueline Legere, 23, of St. George, Ont.
Why do you race? I was first drawn to Red Bull Crashed Ice race because it was such a unique and intriguing sport. When I tried it for the first time, I loved it and had to do it again. It's such an adrenaline rush, it's fast and fun.
What about your diet? Diet is very important to how I feel day-to-day, how hard I am able to train and how well I recover. I take a natural approach and avoid processed food. I eat lots of organic fruits and vegetables, organically raised free-range meat and eggs. I love making smoothies or freshly made juices for breakfast, but I will stray from my diet for the occasional chocolate treat of course!
How do you balance this with your personal life? It can be a little bit tricky to fit everything in sometimes. I have done more travelling for the sport in the last couple years, so I do sometimes miss out on things at home while I'm away racing. But I love what I do so I wouldn't change it. I'm fortunate to have lots of support from my family, boyfriend, and friends.
Karly Russell, 23, of Edmonton
Tell us about the hard days: Most hard days are just getting the motivation to work out. When your goal is so far away, it’s hard to focus on the day-to-day progress.
What's training like? My training isn't very rigorous; I keep in shape by playing rugby in the summer and ice hockey in the winter. When I have the time, I go to the gym with my own workout routines.
What kind of changes would you like to see in the race? I would love to see more girls getting involved in the sport. We’re such a small part of the Red Bull Crashed Ice community so I would love to see that expand in both the local Qualifiers and Final Event.
Ashley Holt, 25, of Edmonton
How do you balance this with your personal life? Having a support system of friends and family who understand that a lot of my time is consumed with training is really important. I also tend to involve my friends in my fitness routines by playing hockey with them, which allows me to socialize while working out.
What does your current fitness routine look like? My fitness routine consists of being on the ice one to two times a week playing hockey, as well as playing ball hockey and volleyball once a week. I am also in the gym four to five times a week doing a variety of weights and cardio exercises.
Tell us about the hard days: There are obviously days where you don’t feel like going to the gym or training, but that’s where a good support system and training partners come in handy. They are there to push you and ultimately, make you a better athlete.
Alicia Blomberg, 25, of Timmins, Ont.
What does your current fitness routine look like? I complete three full-body weight training sessions per week that focus on the anaerobic training system along with leg and core strength. On top of these weight training sessions, I complete three cardiovascular/agility training sessions per week that include plyometrics, sprint training and ice-skating. It is also important that I also give my body two full days per week for rest and recovery.
What's the most rewarding thing about your job? I am primarily an intermediate/senior teacher and have always found teaching to be a very rewarding job, as you have the opportunity to positively influence young people. The most rewarding part of my job is providing students with the opportunity to discover their strengths and passions and motivating them to meet their full potential both academically and as people and citizens.
What are some changes you would like to see in the industry? When looking forward, one change I would like to see in the sport industry is more recognition of women in sport.
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