Brittany Schussler can still see that seven-year-old girl trying speedskating for the first time. She can still feel the joy she felt coming out of a corner. The difference now is she's not just burning up energy as a kid growing up in River Heights and Charleswood -- she's fighting for a spot on Canada's Olympic team.
The World Cup speedskating season begins in Calgary this week and Canada's Olympic Trials are scheduled for late December. The 28-year-old Schussler was an alternate for Canada at the 2006 Olympics and skated in the 2010 Games at Vancouver, where she did not win a medal.
Schussler wants 2014 in Sochi, Russia to be the moment she puts it all together.
"The goal is definitely to come home with a medal," she said Tuesday from Calgary. "Our team pursuit has trained great this summer and this Sunday we'll see where we are at."
Schussler will skate a number of distances but says the 1,500 metre, 3,000 metre and team pursuit will occupy her focus.
The 2010 Games were a great experience in many regards for Canadian athletes, but Schussler left with a gnawing disappointment.
"I wasn't happy with the way Vancouver went and to be honest, I think I have something more in me to give," she said. "You don't want to leave the sport knowing you left something on the table. You want it all to be on the ice."
Schussler was a very busy child growing up in Winnipeg when her parents dropped her off to try speedskating.
"I think they just wanted me out of their hair. It was probably a decision that for them came up over a couple of days and then they just took me their because it was close to my grandparents' house and they wanted me to have a winter sport," recalls Schussler. "It's amazing to me that 20 years later that moment is still having a major impact on my life. I put on the skates and got on the ice and I absolutely loved it, and never gave it up."
Schussler isn't sure if he was there that day but for almost as long as she's been speedskating, Tyler Derraugh has been around.
"We've known each other since we were little, little kids," she laughs, when asked about fellow Olympic hopeful and Winnipegger Derraugh.
Derraugh is entering his fourth international season and hopes it peaks with a trip to Sochi.
"That's the goal and it would be incredible. It's a lot of hard work and this next stretch is critical but hopefully it results in a spot on Team Canada, and then who knows what can happen," said Derraugh, 27, who is a 1,000-metre specialist. "I think my chances are good if I continue to progress. I was national champion last year and I hope to repeat and if I have those kind of results I'll be on the track in Sochi.
Growing up in Winnipeg, Derraugh also played hockey.
"I used to joke that I was speedskating so I would be faster for hockey but when I was 13 I moved permanently to speedskating and never went back," said Derraugh.
His father, Peter Williamson, represented Canada at the Olympics in 1968 in speedskating and was an alternate on the cycling team for the summer Olympics that same year. Derraugh's mother Lori was on the national development team for long-track speedskating and was North American Champion in intermediate short-track speedskating.
Schussler and Derraugh are not the only Manitobans in the Olympic mix. Veterans Cindy Klassen and Shannon Rempel, as well as rookie Heather McLean, are also vying for spots.
Klassen is injured and still suffering from post-concussion syndrome and her return this season is still in question. McLean will be racing in her first World Cup this weekend, and Rempel will be entering her 14th international season and hoping to participate in her third Olympics.
Schussler says this may or may not be her last season and, of course, she'd like to earn a medal, but at the end of the day she's still doing something because she absolutely loves it.
"I really love to skate," she said. "Above and beyond everything else, all the cross training, all the travel and hanging out with my teammates and all the other things that I like about the sport, what I really like best is being on the ice. On the ice I feel completely comfortable and so at home. I love doing any kind of skating. The speed and the flow and the feeling coming out of a turn, for me, there's nothing like it."
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