On January 26, 2006, during the final meeting before Skate the Lake 3, Portland Outdoors co-founders Chris Allan and Colin Horsfall unveiled a new award. Named after Marco Smits, initiator of the International Big Rideau Lake Speed Skating Marathon and co-founder and past president of Portland Outdoors, this award, made from a piece of local barn board, is given every year by Marco to one or more participants or volunteers, whose efforts really made the event memorable.
Guylaine Larouche, 2016 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented January 24th, 2016
We've seen our share of incredible female athletes at Skate the Lake over the years and 2016 was no exception when Guylaine Larouche of Mount Orford, Quebec did something I'd never seen before. Guylaine made her Portland debut in 2015 and promptly won the 50K women's race that year but on the Saturday of Skate the Lake 12 in 2016 she outdid herself by becoming the first woman ever to win one of our marathon distances overall. On Saturday, Guylaine skated the 25K and placed 1st in the Ladies division just 8 seconds from winning the entire event outright. On Sunday, maybe spurred on by her performance on Sat. she won the 50K in a time of 1:58:26, a full 12 minutes ahead of everyone. This was perhaps the easiest decision I ever made in awarding the Marco Smits award.
Gaetan Rochette, 2015 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award.
Presented January 24th, 2015
I met Gaétan Rochette before I ever even thought of Skate the Lake. On a whim, my wife Teresa and I drove to Lac Beauport just outside of Quebec City in 2003 and I skated the 25K which just about killed me.
Gaétan was one of the organizers of that race, which was held on a beautiful 2.5K oval and it was so windy that day that it made the northern winds of Big Rideau Lake seem like a breeze. What I didn’t
know is that by that time Gaétan was already one of the most respected and knowledgeable people in the North American marathon skating scene. Over the next few years Gaétan became one of those skaters I mostly recognized by the colours of his suit (red and yellow) as he passed me in every race. I also got to know Gaétan as we volunteered together on the board of Marathon Skating International.
However, after a few years, Gaétan started to get more and more involved in the timing of the MSI races and I saw the other side of him. On his knees on the ice burying a wire into the frozen lake at the start finish line, trying to keep the laptop from freezing in the referee hut and dealing with skaters and organizers looking for their results. His main objective was always the same; advancing the sport of marathon skating in North America. Then at Skate the Lake 11 in 2015, Gaétan announced this was the last time he would be the time keeper at STL and while I will dearly miss him in that role it makes me happy because perhaps this year again I will be lapped by Gaétan in his familiar yellow and red suit.
Hugh Colton & John Bongers, 2014 Recipients of the Marco Smits Award.
Presented January 26, 2014
2014 was an amazing year, it was Skate the lakes 10th Anniversary, we were hosting the North American Marathon Speed Skating Championships, we had the thickest and best ice in history, so its only fitting that the Marco Smits award would be special as well ---- We had two very deserving recipients.
One of my all time favourite Skate the Lake traditions -and one of many introduced by John Bongers- is the ceremonial cutting of the ice at the opening ceremony. John takes a chain saw and in front of everybody he cuts a slize of ice out of the lake just before the singing of the national anthem. At STL 10 the ice was thicker than ever before. Even the 'old timers’ in town said they had rarely seen it this thick in their lifetime. John, being the resourceful dairy farmer turned icemaster he is, decided to 'pre-cut' the ice block on the Friday before race day. The blade on his regular chain saw wasn't long enough and a 24 inch blade was brought in. The following day, the North American championships were kicked off in true Skate the Lake fashion as John raised the block of ice above his head. I love this stuff! I also love the memories of John's coffee maker plugged into a generator perking away in the middle of the lake at sunrise as well as the constant stream of delicious home cooking he brings along as prepared by his wife Christine. John skated in the first edition of Skate the Lake in 2004 and came on board in the organizing committee the next year. He has been at the helm for many years now which gives me a great sense of confidence towards the future and longevity of Skate the Lake.
Hugh Colton, to me, is the voice of Skate the Lake. I have never heard anyone talk with so much passion about the event. And he does it live on air! I remember some Saturday mornings, early January, sitting in Hugh's car doing an interview for Lake 88.1 at 7 a.m. and thinking "this is way to early to be talking about anything". But then Hugh spoke with so much passion that he shook me right out of my early morning mood. Sometimes I find myself on a summer's day out on the Rideau thinking about Hugh's live on air reports of the ceremonial cutting of the ice -sticking his microphone as close to the spray of lake slush and chainsaw blade as he could- and it makes me smile. I was so proud to be sitting out on the lake in Hugh's latest showroom vehicle at STL 10 when I handed him the Marco Smits award live on air. To give this award to a guy who means so much to so many people in our community makes me proud.
Beth Wylie, 2013 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented January 26, 2013
For the first time in the 9-year history of Skate the Lake, I registered for a 5K race. In my last lap I passed Beth Wylie, who was, judging from the big smile on her face, enjoying herself very much. In passing I asked, "How are you feeling?" and Beth answered, "Great, especially considering I had a hip replacement last year." Say WHAT??
So immediately after finishing my race I went over to our announcer Hugh Colton to ask if he would mention this amazing achievement over the speakers the next time Beth came around. That being said, I needed to know absolutely sure that what I heard from Beth was correct so I skated back to her. (Beth was in the running for the red lantern, so I had a bit of time).
Still smiling and skating along on her white figure skates, Beth told me she actually had DOUBLE hip surgery done and right there I knew I had found a perfect candidate for the Marco Smits award.
Eric Essex, 2012 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented January 28, 2012
During preparations for Skate the Lake 2, on a snowy and blustery December day, I was walking through the village of Portland, hanging up posters to advertise the event when I heard a friendly voice calling me to come inside and warm up. That was the first time
I met Eric and his wife Jen and from that moment on, Eric's incredible enthusiasm for the Skate the Lake makes him one of the key volunteers and without him the event just wouldn't be the same.
Now, many years later, nothing has changed and Eric continues to be a driving force behind Skate the Lake. With contagious enthusiasm and determination, he ensures that the Skate the Lake continues to grow and improve every year. Whether he is spreading the word online or driving the Portland Outdoors ice resurfacer in local Christmas parades, he is known as Skate the Lake's biggest promoter. Eric, thanks for your awesome enthusiasm and making the event better every year!!
Graham Lodge, 2011 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 29, 2011.
No other skater has participated in as many races and won so many prizes here as Graham. When Graham arrives at the oval, we sometimes joke that we might need a professional moving company to help him take all his prizes home at the end of the day!
Not too many people know that, Graham (along with Tony Zegers and Jake Maarse) actually attended the very first official Portland Outdoors meeting in 2003, before the race was ever held. Prior to this year’s race, Graham came up to and was apologetic because he was not going to skate ALL the RACES that day as we have grown accustomed to. Say what??? Of course, at the end of the day, Graham finished the 25K marathon 5 minutes ahead of me and he swept the podium in Male 70+ category. Can’t wait to see you again next year Graham! Thanks again for being one of the biggest supporters and most active participant of the event.
Lori Gilbert, 2011 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 29, 2011
As the award ceremony for Skate the Lake 7 came to an end and the crowd was gathered on the ice in front of the stage, Lori signaled to me that I should not forget to present the Marco Smits award. The timing could not have been any better and all the volunteers (all but Lori that is) knew why.Over the years, Lori has become such an important part of Skate the Lake and is known for her enthusiasm and "anything is possible" attitude as she leads the volunteers and assists in preparations months ahead of the event every year. Anyone who has ever attended the event will recognize her friendly face in the crowd and on the awards stage.
A few days before the 2011 Skate the Lake, Lori went for a moonlit skate with some family and friends on the oval to make sure that everything was ready for the big day. Wanting to share the moment with others, she decided to make a phone call, flipping backwards in the process, and knocking her head on the ice. A bit shook up and bruised, Lori wasn't sure how much she would be able to help in the final days leading up the event. The entire Portland Outdoors volunteer team panicked a bit at the prospect of her being out of commission because she contributes so much to making the day special.
So, it was with great pride that I gave the award to Lori and to share the moment with all the volunteers, participants and spectators. Lori is a Skate the Lake super volunteer and the first non-skater to receive the award.
Rick Mercer, 2009 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 31, 2009.
Leading up to Skate the Lake 6, I learned that volunteer Ian Bongers wrote a letter to television personality Rick Mercer inviting him to the event and four weeks before the big day
we heard that he was coming to film an episode of the Rick Mercer Report in Portland. (click here to see it) The excitement about this news was overwhelming and the volunteer team was determined to make this year better than ever.
One of the first thoughts I had when I heard he wanted to participate, was that he has to wear a skin suit, which is the tight fitting one piece outfit worn by competitive speed skaters. And Rick, a great sport and always willing to try anything new, was part of our relay team fully dressed in spandex and speed skates. The event took about 30 minutes and it was -15 C, so cold that my feet were numb in my skates. I had to run into the registration trailer to thaw out my toes in front of our cozy woodstove. Rick however spent another hour and a half on the ice in his skin suit and speed skates talking to participants and spectators and that was more than enough to earn him the Marco Smits award.
Sue Warren, 2008 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 26, 2008.
Everyone knew that Sue, one of our long-time volunteers, was athletic and strong but no one had ever seen her on ice skates or heard her talk about participating. The rumour was that she goes rollerblading every day at lunchtime but when she told me just a few weeks before the race she was considering skating this year, I wasn't sure what to think. A week before the race I heard that Sue bought her first pair of long blades. Sure enough, in the days building up to Skate the Lake 5 Sue was spotted on the oval every day. I was still pretty sure Sue was going to skate the 10K but no way. And the most amazing thing was that she made the 50K marathon look easy! Steve and her kids cheered her on to an incredible 2 hours and 42 minutes finishing time only a week after she first stepped on speed skates.
Paul Herlehy, 2007 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 27, 2007
Paul has been an amazing asset to Portland Outdoors. In the fall of 2006 he founded the first active speed skating club in Westport. A natural athlete, he purchased skates and took part in marathons in Quebec, Lake Placid and Ottawa to prepare for Skate the Lake 4, on January 27, 2007. Paul fell during the 50K race that day and had to stop. While this could have been a very disappointing day for him after all preparations for the race, it was not. Paul's dedication to advance local speed skating and his always positive outlook are appreciated and respected by everyone involved.
Vicki Stephenson, 2006 Recipient of the Marco Smits Award
Presented on January 29, 2006
The first ever recipient of the award, Vicki picked up speed skating 3 weeks before she competed in the 50K race at the 3rd International Big Rideau Lake Speed Skating Marathon. Even though she already played hockey and was comfortable on the ice, she only got her first pair of speed skates a few days before the race. Finishing with a huge smile on her face in an awesome time, Vicki made the 50K look easy to her family, friends and all the spectators cheering her on.