By Esther Jackson
Skrastins Outdoor Club, a seniors’ outdoor club for over 55’s, was founded in 1979 by Bill Skrastins. He established three seniors’ outdoors clubs during the 1970’s, the M&M’s, Second Sixties and the club that bears his name.
At age 18, Skrastins was conscripted into the Latvian military and sent to Finland for ski training where he learned the breathing and pacing techniques which he would later teach to many Calgarians. After he was shot during enemy engagement, the ship evacuating Bill and other wounded soldiers was torpedoed. He survived by clinging to the wreckage; by any measure, he was both a rugged and skilled individual.
In 1924 Skrastins competed for Latvia in the World Nordic Ski Championships in Finland, and later in the Winter Olympics. Eventually, with his wife and three children, he immigrated to the United States, and later to Canada in 1952.
Recognizing the burgeoning popularity of cross-country skiing, the City of Calgary recreation division contracted Skrastins, then 66, to teach people x-c skiing techniques at Confederation Park. He obtained funding from government sources to help finance equipment and transportation to the mountains. A bench in the park is dedicated to his memory.
Initially the club travelled by carpool to the mountains but by the 90’s they had a contract with a school bus company to provide transportation every Friday. Members and guests now travel by comfortable 55 passenger bus. Skrastins Outdoor Club currently has over 200 members who participate in x-c skiing, hiking and snowshoeing in winter and hiking from spring to fall. Each outing has 3 levels of distance and difficulty for each sport, catering to interests and desired level of exertion. Social activities are also an important aspect of the club with strong member participation in all events.
Bill Skrastins built a lasting legacy for seniors in Calgary and area. Contact Skrastins Outdoor Club through its website: skrastinsoutdoorclub.com
Credit for background information and photo of Bill Skrastins : Brian Brennan, Calgary Herald May 24,1994.