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Toronto senior shows it’s never too late to learn to speedskate

Bob Bach watched Canadian Olympic speedskating teams with awe for years. At age 70, he decided to give it a try himself. Now, at 78, he’s still skating weekly.

Bob Bach, 78, hits the ice at the MasterCard Centre.

Nick Kozak / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Bob Bach, 78, hits the ice at the MasterCard Centre.

After seeing a newspaper ad offering a chance to learn to speedskate, 70-year-old Bob Bach decided it would make a good birthday gift for himself.

“It was something I wanted to do for a long time,” said Bach, now 78 years old. “I didn’t even know there was speedskating in Toronto, frankly.”

After watching Canada’s Olympic short-track speedskating team with awe for two more than two decades, starting with the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, Bach decided it wasn’t too late to learn when the opportunity came up.

“I have relatively strong legs, and not an overly well developed upper body, so speedskating seemed like a good choice,” Bach said.

Bach skates weekly with the Toronto Speed Skating Club at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, while also finding time to play squash three times a week and working at his day job, developing energy-efficient buildings.

“I’m very fortunate that I don’t have any hip or knee or ankle problems, that’s one of the things that has allowed me to carry on,” Bach said.

He attributes this nimbleness to 45 years of playing squash.

Bach looks on as others practice.

Torstar News Service

Bach looks on as others practice.

“Amongst the adult group, I’m vying to not be the slowest,” Bach said. “If you start something at the age I started, you’re never going to be good . . . but I like the sport and I’m still doing it.”

Despite a significant age gap between Bach and most of the people he skates with, the love of the sport brings everyone together.

“It’s a club of very nice people,” Bach said. “(They) are there to help with the many tasks that need to be done every time the rink is used, so it’s a very collaborative atmosphere.”

Bach hopes to stay on the blades for a few more years.

“If I reached 80, I’d be pretty pleased,” Bach said. “(Ten years) isn’t bad when you start as late as I do.”

Bach doesn’t have one favourite speedskater, but he does admire Charles Hamelin, a three-time Olympic gold medallist, and his girlfriend Marianne St-Gelais, a two-time silver medallist at the Winter Games.

When Bach’s club hosted a competition for the world’s top short-track speedskaters, Bach had a chance to talk to the successful pair.

“They also took the time to make themselves available to younger skaters, and there was a period where they weren’t busy, so I had chance to chat with them — very pleasant people,” Bach said.

Bach at the MasterCard Centre with his gear before he gets on the ice.

Torstar News Service

Bach at the MasterCard Centre with his gear before he gets on the ice.

While most of Canada’s elite short-track speedskaters like Hamelin and St-Gelais hail from Quebec, the Toronto Speed Skating Club is one organization trying to grow the sport in Ontario. It is run by volunteer coaches, and is the only competitive speedskating club in the city. It was founded in 1995.

“We offer skating for anyone pretty much six years old to Bob’s age, and older,” said Meryl Nelson, a board member for the club.

Some members skate for recreation, while others are competitive, hoping to make the provincial and national teams.

The club has 80 members, but Nelson is hopeful that the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February will drive more interest.

“The only time people get to see speedskating is the Olympics . . . so we count on it to give (interest in the sport) a bit of a boost,” Nelson said. “We’re a bit of a niche sport, we’re competing with hockey.”

Bach was one of those inspired after watching the Olympics.

“Age is not a barrier for Bob and he is an inspiration to many,” said Leo Zan, president of the club. “I’m sure his story can help encourage others that it’s never too late to get fit and learn something new.”

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