Not long after he finishes his Grade 12 exams at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School next month, Guelph’s Westley Yates will be hopping on a plane headed to Great Britain.
The 18-year-old is going to Nottingham to take his short track speed skating international.
“In the middle of April I got an offer to come to England and train there for the summer and see how that goes and stay there for the next season,” the Cambridge Speed Skating Club member said. “I have my British citizenship and that would enable me to compete for Great Britain.
“In Canada it’s really hard to make an international team because Quebec just dominates. It’ll be a really great experience.”
It could also be the first step to competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics at Beijing.
“I don’t want to think that far ahead and set any expectations, but it would be really cool to go to the next Olympics,” he said. “It’s a childhood dream for every speed skater.”
Yates is coming off a solid season nationally and provincially.
“It was a pretty good one and I’m happy with it,” he said of his recently-completed season.
He recorded the fastest 500-metre race time by a male competitor of 42.86 seconds just about two months ago and was the provincial open male champion. He was also ranked first in the province the entire season and finished third in the season-long Ontario points series although national competition commitments kept him from competing in every round of the provincial series.
“I only went to one and a half of those meets and I still came third so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Yates, who started speed skating 11 years ago after his parents got him into the sport, set provincial junior B records at the three popular distances -- 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m, in the 2016-17 season.
He’s in speed skating primarily because his mother wanted him to get into a sport that wasn’t one of the mainstream sports.
“My mom wanted me to do something different than typical (sports) like hockey or soccer so she signed me up for speed skating and I’ve been loving it ever since,” he said. “There are a few kids, but there’s only a handful whereas for hockey and soccer it’s like every kid.”
And short track speed skating is the version that Yates found best for him, although he has competed in the long-track version, too. Short track sees the competitors battling elbow to elbow on ice surfaces that are also used for hockey, like the Hespeler Memorial Arena complex that the Cambridge club calls home.
“It’s fun. It’s competitive,” Yates said of short track. “There’s four to eight people racing at a time so it gets tight and exciting. It’s kind of frightening, but still a lot of fun.”
And there’s always the possibility of falling in a race, whether by your own doing or by someone else’s. To help protect the competitors, padded mats are placed against the arena boards.
“You have to know how to fall into the mats without going in with your ankle or your head first,” Yates said. “Basically, you want to go in with your back first, but if you’re going in with your feet first, you want to put your feet in the air. You also try not to fall with other people because that’s when people mostly get hurt.”
Preparing for his relocation to Nottingham and a new club, Yates took a glance online to see their results.
“I don’t know anyone from there apart from the coaches who I’ve been talking with and no one knows me so it’s a little scary in that sense, but it’s also exciting that I’ll get to meet so many new people from a new country.”