Sarah Peters of Navan stood on the second step of the medal podium at the end of her event in yesterday's Keskinada Loppet, beaming toward the bright sun.
"It's been a great day," said Peters, still smiling after earning silver in the 53-km freestyle cross-country ski marathon. "I love this race."
It's an event that means so much to the 28-year-old, who won the grueling race four years ago after a snowstorm dumped 20 cm of fresh powder on the winding trails through Gatineau Park. She dedicated the effort of that race to friend Jeffrey Campbell, who died on the same day eight years prior.
"He was one of those people you meet where you're just friends right away," she said.
They were out for a drive on the rural roads near Sarsfield in January of 1994 when Campbell's vehicle collided with another at an intersection.
"The impact was on his side. He was in a coma for a month and two days," said Peters. "I was in the hospital for a couple of nights with broken ribs. I was fine, but Jeffrey's injuries were so bad."
Coping with what happened was difficult.
"All of a sudden, I went from 16 to 34. It's still hard. It's part of my life."
The next winter, a teacher at her high school suggested that Peters take up cross-country running and skiing as a way to get her mind away from the tragedy.
The sport has taken Peters to various sprint and marathon events across North America and Europe.
Yesterday was her second appearance at the Keskinada Loppet since the victory four years ago.
Each time she skis, her race is dedicated to Campbell.
"It's a big thing for me because I race this race for me, but I race it for him, too," admitted Peters.
Peters lives in Thunder Bay, where she attends Lakehead University, and recently applied for medical school. Yesterday, she finished second in what she described as ideal weather conditions.
Dasha Gaiazova of Montreal placed first among women in the long event, finishing the course in two hours, 29 minutes and 16 seconds, nearly five minutes ahead of Peters. Jacqui Benson of Prince George, B.C., was third.
SPRINT TO THE FINISH
The men's 53-km race ended in a sprint to the finish, with Sudbury's David Zyberberg beating Steve Cyr of Shannon, Que., by less than a second. Cyr tried to get across the blue line ahead of Zyberberg, but ended up doing a face plant, a sight that drew gasps from the spectators watching the drama unfold.
Cyr remained down in the snow for a minute, but got up and walked away okay.
Zyberberg thought Cyr had the race won with about a kilometre left, but narrowed a gap in the final sprint to edge him out.
"He just faltered, and I just kept on through it. I probably passed him in the last metre," said Zyberberg.
Lucien Bourgeois of France placed third, finishing three minutes after the leaders. Wayne Dustin of Ottawa, the top local skier, placed eighth, finishing in 2:21:40.
In the 29-km freestyle race, Bruno Cyr finished in 1:19:53 for the victory, besting fellow Gatineau resident Eric Rouleau by 97 seconds. Michael Vieira of Ottawa placed third.
Meanwhile, Colleen Mortimer of Ottawa won the women's 29 km in 1:28:07, placing ahead of Karine Labonte of Gatineau, and Heidi Underwood of Katskill Bay, N.Y.