Rocky Mountain Humans – Robin McKeever, Nordiq Canada Head Coach

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Robin McKeever goes for gold.

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As head coach of Canada’s Para-Nordic team, he led athletes to 36 Paralympic medals and 29 World Championship medals since 2011.

In April 2022, Nordiq Canada named McKeever the head coach of the Olympic Cross Country Skiing Team program.

“It’s a new coaching role for me. I actually don’t coach athletes directly,” McKeever said. “I coach a program within a system and the athletes have their daily training environments defined. at their home.”

There are three main Nordic ski training centers in Canada, including the Pierre Harvey National Training Center at Mont Sainte-Anne in Quebec City, the National Team Development Center in Thunder Bay and the the World Cup Academy at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

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“My role is to coordinate with those coaches and make sure we have the athletes on track,” McKeever said. “My daily training with them is only in camp environments or on the road in the World Cup.”

But he is also directly responsible for six senior World Cup athletes training for the Olympics, including Canmore’s Dahria Beatty and Katherine Stewart-Jones.

“And then we have other coaches, Eric De Nys is our NextGen coach, so he has eight promising youngsters,” McKeever said. “And we have a development or junior program that Matt Smider coaches.”

McKeever is looking forward to this winter.

“We have the Junior and U23 World Championships in Whistler this year, so they’re actually home or as close to home as you can get from Canmore,” McKeever said. “And then I’m excited to be spending more time in a different World Cup environment, but still around skiing and following the FIS World Cup circuit this year.”

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His brother Brian retired from Para Nordic racing after winning gold at the Beijing Olympics earlier this year. He has just been hired as a Para-Nordic coach for the Para-Nordic program. He came out with a bang as the most decorated Paralympian, winning 16 gold medals and four other medals on the podium in men’s races for the visually impaired.

“So it effectively takes over some of the tasks that I used to do in daily athlete training,” Robin McKeever said. “He has a few other people working with him. Bjorn Taylor has been a longtime para program manager on and off at different events doing event management, but now he is full time. And Graham Nishikawa works with Brian as a NextGen coach, in tandem together.

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Robin McKeever competed in the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and every Paralympic Games thereafter as a ski guide for his visually impaired brother Brian until 2010.

“Amateur sport is about five minutes of fame every four years,” said Robin McKeever. “Every four years when the Olympics and Paralympics come around, all that hype gets extreme and you have to be ready for that. From the athlete’s perspective and from the coach’s perspective, this adds a lot of additional mental stress. This is also the time you can capitalize on, as athletes generally make more money. It’s always fun to be a part of it, but it also adds time and commitment that you already have a full plate for.

He coached Canadian Paralympians in Beijing this year.

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“Overall, Beijing was ultimately a very rewarding experience and I hope I don’t have to repeat it, to be quite honest,” said Robin McKeever. “In terms of the Covid situation, all of that and then all of the stressors. It’s a bit more emotional attraction or mental tension.

Robin McKeever appeared on Petro Canada posters with Paralympian Natalie Wilkie ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

“The fun part is that Petro Canada sponsors Coach.ca, so they’re very important in sponsoring and supporting coaches across the country,” McKeever said. “But Petro Canada is also a huge sponsor of the Paralympic movement in Canada, so it was really fun to be associated with Natalie and it really helps her too. I would say it was really gratifying to experience his success in Beijing. The whole business side helped with that and bonded us a bit, but it also created an interesting environment for her, I would say, with added pressures and stress. So the fact that she got two gold medals and improved on her results from four years ago in PyeonChang, I’m really happy for her.

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Robin McKeever lives in Canmore with his wife, Milaine Thériault, a three-time Olympian in cross-country skiing. They have one child, their 19-year-old son Xavier McKeever. Robin’s brother Brian and their parents also live in Canmore.

“Xavier was born in 2003 and Milaine has always participated in the Turin Winter Games in 2006,” said Robin McKeever. “Xavier is really serious about skiing. He’s on the junior team. He was the first non-Russian at the World Championships last year. There were four Russians and he finished fifth in the 30 kilometer freestyle event. He’s a good skier, we’ll see where he goes.

This is Xavier’s last year as a junior.

“He just finished a camp at Park City with the whole senior program and he’s kind of integrated into the whole program,” McKeever said. “I hope he takes a lesson or two at school, but I’m not urging him to because he’s really focused on skiing and as long as he can make ends meet doing that, I support him to pursue his dreams.We say genetics plays a role, but she also has to have the child of genetics who wants to take it on.

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When Xavier was young, Robin put him in every possible sport except cross-country skiing in the winter.

“So that it doesn’t just fall into ‘I’m a cross-country skier because that’s all I know,'” McKeever said. “In the Bow Valley, he was doing a lot of downhill skiing and also speed skating. He did a year of pond hockey.

Fritz is their 13 year old dog.

“My mom and dad sold Calgary, where I was born and raised, and they bought our old house and I built a new house right next to them in Canmore,” McKeever said, ” So they’re neighbors and they help look after the dog a lot. And they helped to help us raise Xavier because I was a full-time trainer and Milaine was still running. Both of her sets of grandparents have played a key role in his upbringing.

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For fun, Milaine and Robin like to run together.

“I used to do a lot of mountain biking, but now it’s just a hobby,” McKeever said. “I really enjoy being outside, training and being on the field with the athletes. The days when I do that, it’s work, but it’s also my hobby.

This winter, ski enthusiasts should keep an eye out for Quebec’s Olivier Léveillé, McKeever said. “He was top-10 in the best World Cup distance race this year in Falun, Sweden, and his training looks really good so far this year,” McKeever said. “He’s 21 so young and promising as far as I’m concerned.”

The program has grown, he said.

“We had a great camp in Park City two weeks ago and we’re leaving for our next camp in Mammoth, California with the Para team in three weeks, so I’m looking forward to creating a positive environment and energy. positive for the athletes to follow,” McKeever said. “The big change for me is trying to create a family for the team and the athletes so they feel comfortable with each other and that they support each other, even though it’s an individual sport.”

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A lot of the early season snow and all the early season racing they try to do is out of the biathlon zone for cross country and also for biathletes.

“The biathlon stadium hasn’t been redone, it’s been pretty similar since the 1988 Olympics,” McKeever said. “And because that stadium hasn’t changed, the rules about the size of the stadium and the amount of space you need to hold the races have changed, so they had to tear down the old timing building. and move the stadium so they can get more space. The shooting range will stay as it is and it’s not going to move.”

It won’t be finished in time for the snow, he said.

“But the snow will still go away and we’ll be skiing,” McKeever said. “As far as I know, Frozen Thunder is due to open around October 20th and they’ll be bringing out that snow we’ve been storing in the back under the sawdust.”

Please visit nordiqcanada.ca for more information.

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