After accomplishing what was once the unthinkable for a young man representing Canada in the sport of cross-country skiing at the elite level, Devon Kershaw has decided to hang up the racing boots, Cross Country Ski de Fond Canada announced on Wednesday.
“It has been 15 great years chasing my dreams in a sport that I absolutely love, but I have a wife and a 15-month-old daughter now, and it is just getting harder and harder to be away” said the 35-year-old Kershaw, who added the financial constraints that come with being an athlete on Canada’s National Team weighed in on his decision to call it a career.
“It was an incredible journey. Everything that I have in my life – my wife, my daughter, my friends and the incredible people I have met along the way – I owe to this great sport. Two of the many great coaches that had a huge impact on me were Dave Wood and Justin Wadsworth, and the amazing wax staff including Yves Bilodeau and Joel Jaques who were at my side the whole time. I can’t thank all of them, my family, my sponsors and the community enough for their support in helping me create this remarkable story on the ski trails.”
Kershaw first broke onto the National Ski Team in 2003 with a group of young Canucks born out of training centres across the country who were following an international path blazed by Pierre Harvey, Beckie Scott and Sara Renner.
“I was just a kid from Sudbury (Ontario) dreaming of one day competing at the Olympics. I knew there was a guy in Canada named Pierre Harvey who was held in high esteem for his five World Cup medals in cross-country skiing but that was 20 years before my time. Having Beckie and Sara around was huge for us young guys. They did some heavy lifting and taught the next generation of athletes like myself what it takes to compete at this level,” said Kershaw.
“When I made the team, we were a strong group of eight like-minded men who all worked hard towards the same goal. We weren’t thinking about winning, or standing on the podium. We pushed each other and were focused on working hard – really hard – and believed in the possibility to improve. What transpired is unfathomable really.”
Weeks removed from the Canadian women claiming two medals in cross-country skiing at Kershaw’s Olympic debut in Torino, Italy, the young 23-year-old became the second Canadian male ever to stand on the World Cup cross-country ski podium when he won the bronze medal in a sprint race in Borlaenge, Sweden.
“I remember when I saw I had the fourth fastest qualifying time in that race, I thought there must be a mistake in the results,” said Kershaw. “Nobody believed it was possible for Canadian men to be contenders on the World Cup. The world didn’t believe it, and the Canadian cross-country ski community by and large didn’t believe it.”
Kershaw stepped up and was ready to carry the torch for a new era of cross-country skiers in Canada. Over the next decade, multiple athletes stepped onto the World Cup podium before the four-time Olympian, and his longtime World Cup mate Alex Harvey, took things to a new level in 2011 when they became the first Canadian men to win a World Championship medal, claiming gold in the team sprint race at the birthplace of the sport in Oslo, Norway.
In 15 short years, Kershaw helped put the Canadian men’s team on the radar having racked up a total of 14 World Cup medals, including three victories. It was a run highlighted by a second-place overall finish on the 2012 World Cup circuit.
“Devon was like a big brother for me. He showed me the path of excellence in our sport from the day I joined the World Cup team,” said Alex Harvey. “It’s been a great journey for us. We gave Canada its first World Championship title together and since that day, we never looked back. Watching Devon dominate the world of cross-country skiing in 2012 really opened the flood gates for me, and it definitely broke the glass ceiling on the overall World Cup podium for a North American man. He was a great teammate and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Harvey, Kershaw and the Canadian squad were thriving on the road to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi with nearly the entire World Cup team having taken a turn standing on the international podium.
“It is really crazy to think now that I have been a part of breaking all of these records – winning the World Championships, the World Cup medals, and the first distance relay medal last year, and to see what Alex (Harvey) has been able to do. It is just an amazing thing, and something I am very proud of.”
Kershaw’s illustrious career also brought him agonizingly close to becoming the first Canadian male to stand on the Olympic podium with a fourth-place finish in the team sprint with Harvey, and a fifth-place result in the 50-kilometre classic-ski race at the 2010 Games.
“After skiing for two hours, and to finish two seconds from a gold medal, and less than a second from a bronze in 2010 really was a heartbreak, but I did believe I’d have another chance,” said Kershaw. “We went to Sochi with the strongest men’s team ever. We were all in good shape and winning medals leading up to those Games. We were ready, but everything that could go wrong unfortunately did. I wanted nothing more than to see a Canadian male stand on the Olympic podium while I was skiing. It is heartbreaking to know I won’t be a part of that, but I know I have to be proud of what we all accomplished as a team.”
Now living in Norway with his wife – accomplished Norwegian cross-country skier Kristin Stoermer Steira – and their daughter, Kershaw has a long list of items to tackle on his “To Do List.” At the top is spending precious time with his family and then hitting the books.
“There are a lot of tough choices you have to make being a cross-country skier from Canada. We lived out of our suitcases while traveling around the world for more than seven months of the year. It was getting really tough to leave my family last year, so I’m looking forward to being close to home,” said Kershaw, who also admits he’s going to work on learning to speak more Norwegian. “I want to stay involved in the sport at some level – whether it is in Canada or Norway – but in the short term – I need to get back to school and continue my education, so my mom can sleep well at night. That is first on the agenda!”