From dress shoes to speed skates

By Erin Shumlich

The 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver were inspiring for Kevin Jagger, who dropped his career to join the team of long-track speed skaters. After watching the Olympics, Jagger decided to take off his tie and strap on skates to begin what would be a long and sometimes bumpy journey.

With the Olympics in Sochi, Russia right around the bend, Jagger has his eye on the prize — representing Canada on the national team. In a feat some might scoff at, the 27-year-old Vancouver native is optimistic about tackling the challenging sport in a short period of time.

After graduating from McGill with a degree in finance, Jagger worked as an investment banking analyst for three years.

“I played football in college and had been out of sports for five or six years, just getting fat working in a cubicle and I wanted to try and get back into a sport,” he said. “The traditional sports were long past me — I couldn’t get into hockey, football or basketball, it was just too late.”

Jagger was blown away by Canada’s speed skating performance in the Olympics. The team captured 26 medals, including 14 gold, and he was instantly drawn to the sport. This was a daring choice for Jagger, who switched from hockey to football when he was 11 years old and has been off skates since then.

“I knew there was a lot of crossover between cycling and speed skating, so I liked the idea of a sport that trained your whole body — I just gave it a shot.”

After Jagger hired a coach and quit his job, it was four months until he actually put on a pair of skates. He and his coach set goals for the next four years, but Jagger said it was difficult to judge whether these would be attainable because they had no reference point.

“The biggest obstacle is managing expectations,” said Jagger. “I understand the odds and try to keep an open mind to things, but I do maintain the goal of wanting to make the national team.”

Another obstacle that Jagger has faced is embedded in the story of any amateur athlete — finances to support the dream. Without a job, training and equipment costs became even more overbearing. To help with the burdening cost, Jagger turned to sponsorship.

“I knew I was not going to get support based on my athletic resume,” said Jagger. “I knew that I was going to have an odd story that, if I shared it and started a blog, I would have a following. If you do build up an audience, it does become an asset and is something I could go and seek a sponsorship for. I love the idea of sharing every step of the way with anyone and everyone.”

Although Jagger has a lot of support from his friends, family and fiance, in only his second year of speed skating, he is no stranger to cynicism. He constantly comes across the question ‘How can you put your life on hold?’, but Jagger sees his decision differently.

“When I was banking, anything that was not work was 100 per cent put on hold: my personal fitness, my family, my girlfriend [now fiance] were completely secondary. Where I came from was actually on hold, now I just feel like I am living my life.”

Jagger has made incredible strides in the last year. In order to make the national team, skaters need to rank, depending on the race, in the top 16 or 20. In those two races, Jagger ranked 87th and 90th and is re-energized and ready for another year.

“Last year I felt like I was an athlete learning to speed skate and now I feel like a speed skater. That has kind of been the biggest thing — I don’t feel like a total peripheral person out here.”

Jagger is currently skating with the Olympic Oval program, which was established shortly after the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics in response to demands for high-level coaching for Canadian and international speed skaters. With the program, Jagger will have the opportunity to travel around Canada to continue racing for a spot on the national team.

“There is a quotation attributed to Samuel Johnson: ‘A horse that can count to 10 is a remarkable horse, not a remarkable mathematician.’

“Someone that has come in late to the sport and gets 87th, it’s okay, but my goal is not to be a remarkable horse,” said Jagger. “I really do want to be a top speed skater and I’ve got a long way to go.”

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