Quiet, kind, humble, unassuming, diligent, polite and considerate. That’s basically Hannah Mehain until race time.
Then her game face surfaces. You won’t get any stereotypical Canadian “Sorry, so sorry” from Mehain when the gun goes off at the cross country ski starting line. Oh, and don’t get in her way.
“She’s not nasty on the track, but if you want to pass her, you have to push hard,” laughed Darren Derochie, head coach at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre. “She is the sweetest and kindest girl out there, but you put a bib on her and she is so competitive and determined to win. She works super hard and has the willingness to push herself in training.”
Mehain leaves Friday for the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Rasnov, Romania after placing fourth overall in the Haywood Nor-Am World Junior/U23 Trials last month in Thunder Bay. She will spend six days in Seefeld, Austria at an acclimatization camp before travelling to Romania.
Derochie, 50, spent 10 years with the national team and sees some of himself in Mehain.
“I asked her a few years ago about motivation and she said she likes to push herself, see where she can go. Any athlete on the international stage has to have that attitude and that’s what makes her tick. You either want it or you don’t.”
One of four girls representing Canada in Romania, Mehain qualified by taking third in the skate sprint time trial in behind Marie Corriveau and Sadie White.
On the same day, during the afternoon heats, Mehain just missed the A final and ended up eighth.
On the second day of racing, she placed first in the junior Girls 5-km classic to earn a combined times fourth. The last race of the trials, the 10km pursuit, was cancelled due to cold weather.
“Qualifying for the worlds felt awesome because it’s so competitive,” said Mehain, a Grade 12 student at Seaton and a member of the SnowSports Academy. “In the sprint, I expected to get into the A final, but in the semifinals, I was a little conservative and a girl got me at the finish.
“In the classic, I was conservative for three quarters of the race and then I really went for it in the last kilometre.”
Mehain tried nordic skiing as a tyke in Nelson and mom, Mae, was Hannah’s first coach. Sisters Heather and Sarah also took up the sport.
“Those kids grew up in an active family and they got their hard-work attitude from Mae,” said Derochie.
Hannah spent four years swimming with the Vernon Kokanee and rowed in the B.C. Summer Games two years ago. She was a breaststroke specialist in the pool.
“I did two nationals in swimming before I did one in skiing.” said Mehain, who plays the violin and enjoys painting and drawing. “My strengths (in nordic) are a strong focus. I’m intense. I have an ultimate focus when I’m in my zone and I love training hard.”
In her first nordic nationals, at Whistler, Mehain was 14 and while she didn’t reach the podium, she was “very competitive chasing the top girls.”
The family moved to Vernon when Hannah was eight and she immediately got involved with the world-class Sovereign Lake facility and programs.
“Hannah started cross country skiing when she was three and she was a natural from the very get go,” said Mae. “I never taught her; she just copied. What I remember most about Hannah from when she was very young is that she had incredible balance, whether it was on cross country skis, ice skates or downhill.
“When she was four, she used to alpine ski with her dad (John) and go over the moguls with the uphill ski right off the snow. We always built a backyard rink when the kids were growing up and Hannah would spend hours out there after school, spinning and jumping and loving every minute of it. Hannah has always loved every sport.”
Mehain has great endurance and used it to strike silver in the senior girls 3,000-metre race at the Battle of the Border track and field meet in Kamloops last spring.
Mehain, who turns 18 in May, is in year two with the provincial junior girls team
“She’s one of four girls from Canada going to the worlds and not many 17-year-olds crack that nut,” said Derochie. “Whenever I’m giving my pre-workout talk, she’s always chomping at the bit. She’s like, ‘Enough talk, let’s get skiing.’”
Derochie said nordic numbers are on the rise. He was expecting 300 athletes at a B.C. Cup race in Kamloops this weekend. That number would have been 50 a few years ago.