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(Posted 5:30 p.m., Jan. 15)
Intrepid volunteers maintain community’s outdoor rinks
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Nick O’Connell floods the outdoor rink at the South Fallingbrook Community Centre. Fred Sherwin/Photo

It’s quite possibly the most thankless job in the city. Every night, they dress against the elements and venture out to more than a dozen outdoor rinks across the east end to clear and flood the ice and make sure they’re in the best condition possible.

And they do all this in virtual anonymity without any compensation.

They are the outdoor rink maintenance volunteers whose sanity many would call into question if the public knew to what lengths they go so that the rest of us can skate for free in the great outdoors.

Nick O’Connell has been maintaining the three outdoor rinks in the Fallingbrook area for the past 11 or 12 years. (He’s not sure exactly when he took the task on).

He works anywhere between an hour and three hours a night, every night of the week providing it’s cold enough.

“Am I nuts? I guess you have to be a little nuts if you get upset when it gets warm out and you look forward to a cold snap,” says O’Connell. “Zero or plus five is not good for making ice."

In January, the weather was especially unpredictable, forcing O’Connell and the other maintenance volunteers to put in some long hours. When the temperature began to plummet last week, it was a godsend.

On Saturday night, when the windchill factor was a bitter minus 38 degrees, O’Connell, like many of the other outdoor rink volunteers in the city, was out flooding the ice

Having done the job for so long, he knows how to dress the part starting with long underwear. For outerwear, he puts on a heated Dewalt coat, over which he wears a down-filled jacket and a Coast Guard survival suit his father gave him.

O’Connell has been maintaining the outdoor rinks in Fallingbrook for the past 12 years. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The extremities – hands and feet – are the most difficult to protect. Thankfully, O’Connell’s wife gave him a pair of heated thermal socks for Christmas. He wears them inside a pair of waterproof snow boots which would be sufficient under normal circumstances, but standing on a sheet of ice while operating a two-inch water hose for 90 minutes to an hour doesn’t exactly qualify as “ordinary conditions”.

When his feet get really cold, he warms them up by spraying his boots with water from the hose.

Gloves are another issue. He has a pair of fleeced-lined rubberized gloves, but he often has to “de-ice” them, or take them off to operate the nozzle, or work on equipment. By the midway point of the outdoor rink season his hands are chapped, cracked and raw from the elements.

On the bright side he gets plenty of fresh air. On the not so bright side, he also gets plenty of complaints mostly from people upset with the condition of the ice.

“It comes with the job I guess. You can’t get too excited about it,” says O’Connell, who astonishingly has only skated on an outdoor rink once in the past 12 years.

Asked why he continues to do the job after all this time, O’Connell has one simple answer – he does it for the kids.

“When you see the families using the rinks and the kids learning how to skate, it does make it all worth,” says O’Connell. “And actually, I’m not getting as many complaints as I used to, so I think people are starting to appreciate what we do and that we are volunteers."

So the next time you drive by an outdoor rink on a cold winter night and you see a guy out flooding the ice, remember that he isn’t a city employee, he’s just a volunteer who’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart and to help make his community a better place to live.

And perhaps, just perhaps, you might want to stop, get out of your nice warm car, and go thank him, because trust me when I tell you, there aren’t many around like him.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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