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Classroom Champions: Siksika Nation students get tour of Olympic Oval with Team Canada speed-skater

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Students from Siksika Nation had an elite field trip on Thursday, spending the day at the Olympic Oval as part of a private tour and training experience with a Team Canada speed skater.

"If one day coming to the oval inspires even one of them, that's exciting to me," said long-track speed skater Alison Desmarais, who hopes to compete at the 2026 in Milan, Italy.

She's also an athlete mentor for Classroom Champions, an international non-profit that connects predominantly underserved, rural and Indigenous communities in North America with athletes for lessons about community engagement, goal-setting, perseverance and teamwork. 

Desmarais is currently living and training in Calgary, but hails from British Columbia and is of Metis descent

She had been conducting regular lessons and seasonal video calls with students from Chief Old Sun School and Chief Crowfoot School on Siksika Nation, 80 kilometres east of Calgary.  

Desmarais says she wants to be a role model, especially for Indigenous youth. 

"Its nice because she let us come here because she wanted us to see how it looks," said Measha Sitting Eagle, a grade three student.

Alison Desmarais takes students from Siksika Nation on a tour of the Olympic Oval through Classroom Champions on Thursday, June 8, 2023. Desmerais took the students one class at a time for a lap around the track (the ice had been removed for the summer), through the weight room, and passed around some of her gear including medals from the World Cup circuit. 

She says sharing life lessons is what's most meaningful.

"They tell me the goals they have set, they tell me how they have been involved in their community, and it's really cool and it inspires me to see that what I learn in sport isn't just relevant in sport," said Desmarais.

Teachers and parent chaperones say the experience will leave a lasting impression.

Alison Desmarais takes students from Siksika Nation on a tour of the Olympic Oval through Classroom Champions on Thursday, June 8, 2023. "Most of them are overwhelmed with how much (there) is here, like seeing the track, seeing the gym, they've never seen stuff like this some of them. The fact they get to be here is just a big eye-opener for them," said Chief Old sun Elementary Grade 3 teacher Jasmyn McCulloch.

"Its good for them to get out here and see this and experience this, because it encourages them to carry on with sports or whatever they choose to do with life," said parent Taren Fast.

The students then hosted Desmerais at their school on Siksika Nation for the second half of the experience on Thursday. 

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