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Team went through 'boot camp' hell

Skaters pushed to limit during Dawson Creek torture test

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VANCOUVER -- Carla MacLeod's eyes filled with tears at the thought of one more session in the weight room. Beckie Kellar had to overcome her fear of bears.

Whatever the Olympic Games throw at the Canadian women's hockey team now that they've arrived in Vancouver, nothing will be harder than the month they spent together near Dawson Creek, B.C., last spring.

Boot camp, as it is not-so-fondly called, tested the women physically and mentally for 24 days in May and June. In the process, they pushed past their limits and helped their teammates get past theirs.

When the players reconvened in Calgary in August to begin full-time training, they already had a strong base of trust and fitness to build on.

"They learned how to work through a lot of different things and things we might still be working through right now had we not done that," head coach Melody Davidson says.

Days that started at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. laid the foundation for physical and mental toughness that the players must draw on now that their final and biggest test is upon them. The Canadian women open the Olympic tournament Saturday against Slovakia at Thunderbird Arena.

Running, rock climbing, kickboxing, yoga, weight sessions and triathlons, in addition to on-ice drills, kept the Canadian women on the go from morning until night. Towards the end of boot camp, they rode their bikes 35 kilometres into the mountains, hiked up one and back down before making the return trip on their bikes.

Exhaustion would eventually hit. The players had to find reserves they didn't think they had to continue. They also learned to recognize when teammates were struggling and what help they needed.

"We call it hitting the wall. You just bonked," MacLeod says. "In the 30 days, I probably hit a wall three different times, where I just wondered 'what is going on? This is crazy.'

"I think that's why it is such great team bonding. All of that's important. It's testing your limits. It's neat as a person to see how far you can go and how do you react when you are in your low of lows. Do you yell? Or do you retreat?"

For some, the punishment began the moment they fell out of bed and laced up their shoes for the morning run.

"For those who are runners, they are pretty good at it, but a couple of us who aren't the best runners our heart rates were 170 or 180 for 25 minutes straight," MacLeod explains.

MacLeod, a defenceman from Calgary, reached the end of her emotional tether during a weight-room session.

"It was to the point where if someone had said one more thing to me, that was it. I was going to be done," she recalls. "(Tears) welling in my eyes. You are just so fatigued. But the next day, you wake up and you are better."

"I was crusty that day, but I wasn't the crustiest, so I don't think it was my lowest day."

For Kellar, a defenceman from Hagersville, Ont., about to play in her fourth Olympics, it was the prospect of riding her mountain bike and hiking through terrain that included bears that had her spooked.

"They gave us a quick tutorial on how to avoid/survive a bear attack, which didn't do a whole lot for me," she says. "I was scared. I have to admit."

Boot camp has become standard for Canada's Olympic women's hockey teams since they held one in Valcartier, Que., prior to the 2002 Games, They spent a month training in Prince Edward Island prior to 2006. But this one was the toughest one yet.


-- The Canadian Press


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2010 C5

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