Fun fact: No Sudbury
male has captured the Beaton Classic solo event more often
than long-time teacher Kerry Abols.
The 45 year-old former varsity nordic
skier at Lakehead University has finished first on nine
separate occasions. Even more flabbergasting is the fact
that those victories occur over a period of 16 some years,
from 1998 through to 2013. And as recently as both 2018
and 2019, Abols would finish in the top three, just back
of race winner Clinton Lahnalampi.
Fun fact #2: The
younger of two children in the family, Abols competed
in the Beaton solo excursion in 1990, for the very first
time, at just fourteen years of age. At his first two
races, he was forced to lie about his age, not yet having
reached the event standard of sixteen.
Many of his students, past and current,
as well as a boatload of Sudburians who are fans of athletic
participation in general are well aware of Abols’
devotion to a lifestyle that still finds the avid outdoorsman
among the constants of so many Sudbury Fitness Challenge
events and the like.
But one would have to go back to his early
contemporaries, the likes of Michael Hay, Adrian Gedye,
Tim McLees, Jack Kosmerly and their co-horts to find folks
who truly understand just how significant a contribution
that Kerry Abols has made to the lore of the Beaton Classic.
And to think that if not for nordic ski
coach Norm Neil, this might not all have been.
Abols grew up in New Sudbury, kick-starting
this journey innocently enough.
“I did some hockey, just because
that’s what most kids did,” he said recently,
relaxing on the grounds of Lockerby Composite School,
the institution he has called home since the turn of the
millennium. “Mom’s side of the family was
a little bit into cross-country skiing and in those days,
we just had to cross Falconbridge highway to ski.”
“There was nothing on the other
side (of the highway); we could just hop on the snowmobile
trails. Skiing on groomed trails was a rarity, maybe an
occasional trip to Laurentian.”
In his first year at Lasalle Secondary,
Abols would join a very modest Lancer nordic ski team,
rapidly taking stock of the competition. “I could
see kids from other schools that were really good at skiing,
so I asked: how do I get like that?”
Before long, Abols had made his way to
his very first practice session with the Laurentian Nordic
Ski Club (LNSC). It was still summer and it was an eye-opener.
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” he
acknowledged. “It was so much more structured and
so much more organized that I could have ever imagined.”
“Fortunately, I decided to stick
with it, because it was the best decision I ever made.”
To suggest the move was life–altering
does not come close to meeting the requirement of hyperbole.
And this is where we circle back to Norm Neil, a recent
Laurentian grad at the time and the man who would spend
just a couple of seasons as head coach of LNSC before
working briefly with the national team program in Alberta.
Neil was an ardent believer in the value
of multi-sport training. As such, his young skiers were
encouraged to take part in what was then a very active
Sudbury sports scene. “I was the type of kid that
if there was anything around: bike race, running race,
swim race, canoe – any local event, I pretty much
did it,” said Abols.
The Neil-Abols partnership might well
have been a short one, but it defined the next few decades
for the young man who would go on to conquer the test
of endurance that is the Ironman on no less than five
Almost every year from 1990 through until
2019, Kerry Abols has participated in the Beaton Classic,
albeit not always in the solo event. If he was in town,
he was doing the Beaton – no questions asked. Throughout
that stretch and his string of victories (1998, 1999,
2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013), two summers
would stand out among the rest.
“I remember the first time I did
it very vividly, and I remember the first time I won very
vividly,” said Abols. The stories are classics and
1200 words will not come close to doing them justice.
Though he felt little or no pressure to
perform in 1990, still just a year into high-school, Abols
was also young enough to not yet feel comfortable asking
for much help. Back then, the event would draw a field
of 250 or more, with a much larger delegation of family
and friends supporting the athletes, strewn right across
the Laurentian stadium.
“Norm didn’t really care about
where we finished, he just wanted us doing stuff, and
doing as much as we could,” said Abols. “This
was really about just staying active so that when the
fall came, we were in shape and ready to start the cross
If the first leg (the swim) of his first
Beaton went well, the transition to the bike proved substantially
more interesting. “Having not done it before, I
was thinking I wanted to put on proper bike shorts,”
said Abols. “Looking back, the serious triathletes
would do the whole thing in the same outfit.”
“My plan was to bring a big huge
blanket and get changed in the infield area of the stadium,
under the blanket.” No use wasting time making his
way to a washroom or such. “I threw the blanket
over myself, not realizing that it’s not that easy
to change under a blanket, let alone when you’re
soaking wet and completely out of breath.”
“It seemed ingenious to me,”
he added with a laugh.
Through five years of secondary schooling,
Abols would follow more or less the same summer routine,
all in anticipation of competing with the Lakehead Thunderwolves’
nordic ski team. “I never took it seriously, in
the sense of racing it as a triathlete,” he said.
“But I was always getting a little bit better.”
It wasn’t as though he was limited
to Sudbury, tackling multi-sport events in North Bay and
Elliot Lake and capturing the first ever Haileybury Triathlon.
And though he would earn honours as the all-around Ontario
Cup XC ski champion one winter (ironically without winning
a single individual race – though lots of podium
finishes), it was his summer passions that were beginning
to take precedence.
“By second year at Lakehead, cross
country ski is not the be all and end all,” said
Abols. “I wasn’t going to stop cross country
skiing, but I knew that I had gotten to where I was going
to get. I was looking for something, something that was
really going to push me.”
In the summer of 1998, with one final
year of post-secondary studies still looming ahead back
home at Laurentian University, Abols would find that challenge
in the form of the Canadian Ironman. Scheduled two weeks
after the Beaton Classic, the grueling endeavour would
seem to pose a problem to his typical August itinerary.
“A lot of people wondered why I
would do the Beaton, but to me, the Beaton was just something
that you did,” said Abols. “I’m in the
best shape of my life – why wouldn’t I do
In one of the most fiercely contested
battles, at least for the first two thirds of the race,
Abols and four time champion Adrian Gedye would go toe
to toe. “He knew that I was his competition and
I knew that he was my competition.” According to
Abols, the pairing likely flip-flopped possession of first
place maybe a half dozen times or more.
The second half of the canoe leg would
mark the difference, one that allowed Abols to finally
“This made me feel like top dog
in the community,” he said. “I had done well
in ski races, but I didn’t win any big ski races.”
Some twenty years later, the tables have
turned. No male has won the Beaton Classic as often as
Kerry Abols – and it’s not even close.