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New London - Before the morning snow turned to rain Thursday, Dick Hale took advantage of a chance to train for what could be a new sport for the next winter Olympics - if the number of practitioners in the Northeast were the only criterion.
"This has been a better year for us in the Northeast to be in condition to do this," said Hale, after shoveling in front of his Montauk Avenue package store, Pequot Colony Wine & Spirits, the clean sidewalk serving as a kind of welcome mat to let his customers know he was staying open. "But if you were to get really serious about conditioning, you'd probably have to move to Colorado or someplace like that."
Snow shoveling, probably the most frequent outdoor exercise for southeastern Connecticut and much of the rest of the country this winter, has all the elements of other Olympic sports, requiring strength, fitness, attention to the right equipment for current conditions and a determined attitude.
"Definitely, it should be an Olympic sport," said Gabriel Martinez of New London, as he cleared one of the walkways in front of Lawrence+ Memorial Hospital. "It would be nice to watch."
Clad in his head-to-toe "blizzard suit," waterproof gloves and boots, Martinez said he's gotten a good cardiovascular workout every time it's snowed this winter, but would probably start lifting weights regularly if he were to shovel competitively. As for equipment, he opts for the traditional straight handle and a wide-bladed shovel. His technique?
"I'm kind of an infantryman," he said. "I like to go after the big piles first."
Just around the corner, fellow L+M employee Robert Jeffrey espoused a different strategy and equipment preference.
"I like to go around the per imeter first," he said, as fat flakes recoated the sidewalk he had just cleared. "And I like a shovel with a long handle, or the ones with the curved handles are good, too."
A few blocks away on Ocean Avenue, Cathy Long used a shovel with a zigzag handle to keep her walkway and driveway clear. Did she think snow shoveling should be an Olympic sport?
"This winter, sure," said Long, who was working from home Thursday rather than commuting to her job in the human resources department at ESPN in Bristol. "I always make sure to get out and shovel. The sidewalks are the most important."
The light, fluffy snow in the morning made for "prime, excellent" conditions for the sport, she said, even softening some of the frustration of having to redo the opening to her driveway repeatedly.
"I love how the snowplow guys go up and down Ocean Avenue and keep dumping the snow back in front of the driveway I just shoveled," she said, then motioned to a plow barrelling down the road. "Here he comes now, with that maniacal grin on his face."
For Robert Welch, shoveling snow is a means of getting exercise and earning a few extra dollars at the same time.
"My landlord pays me $15 an hour to shovel," said Welch, as he lifted snow from the sidewalk beside the Montauk Avenue apartment building where he lives. "This snow isn't bad, except the spots where there's ice left from the last storm."
In downtown New London, Brian Stradczuk, owner of the Oasis Pub, didn't fancy himself a contender for gold in some future snow-shoveling Olympics. "It's just work," he said. "All you need is a regular old shovel, two hands and a good back."
And he probably wouldn't make a good coach for the sport either, showing little patience for analysis of the best methods.
"It's just pushing snow," he said. "I don't get that technical. I just go for the swipe."
Shoveling is good exercise, but people who aren't used to exerting themselves should take on the task gradually, said Calvin McCoy, co-owner of Advantage Personal Training in East Lyme and Mystic. A shoveling workout tests muscles in the legs, back, core and arms.
"You need strength, power, endurance," he said, after the fourth time wielding his shovel that morning outside the East Lyme center. "It can get your heart rate spiking high really quickly."
For a person weighing 150 pounds, McCoy said, shoveling at a moderate pace burns about 420 calories per hour. That's the equivalent of a 4-mile walk, or an order of small fries and a medium Coke at McDonald's. Asked whether snow shoveling should become an Olympic sport, McCoy laughed, then pondered various kinds of a shoveling competitions. Shovelers could compete for speed, endurance, or volume of snow moved.
"I'm getting plenty of training this winter," he said.