Toronto has won the right to host the Pan American Games in 2015 – how sweet it is for Toronto to win this honour!! I competed in the in the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina back when I was a short course girl and it remains one of the greatest experiences of my life. I remember making the team back in 1994. I went to the World Champs in Auckland, New Zealand on the Elite National Team – it was back before drafting was allowed. I knew that I was a good candidate to make the team but I would likely have to finish as the top Canadian in the World Championships. The course suited me – I still wasn’t a swimmer -but I had begun to work on it – but I was a relatively good biker and runner. I think I exited the swim in about 47th position and got off of the bike in around 30th position on the very windy tough hilly ride and then I moved up to 19th or 20th on the run. And most importantly, I finished as the top Canadian ahead of Fiona Cribb (who lucky for me – unlucky for her – had broken her collarbone a month prior to the event. I also finished ahead of Heather Fuhr who – lucky for me – unlucky for her – had just finished the Hawaii Ironman and lacked the zip she needed to race short course. Believe me, I was the happiest 19th place finisher ever!! I’ll never forget my post-race interview on CBC – you honestly would have thought that I had one the race!!! I was still a full-time math and computer science teacher at the time and I was on an unpaid leave of absence from work for a few weeks so that I could compete! Wow, times have changed.
So with my top Canadian finish at the World Championships (Emma Carney won for the women and Spencer Smith won for the men) – I qualified for the Pan Am Games in 1995 along with Fiona Cribb and Kirstie Otto who is now married and races with the last name Knaizew. It was my first time traveling to a big race with all ‘real professional athletes’ – athletes who did not work at all. I remember being very homesick and phoning home before the race only to be disconnected 3 times. My phone bill after that trip was well over $400 and that single call home was around $100 for literally about 12 minutes of talk time. How things have changed with long distance communication. We stayed in the athlete village and had amazing perks – lots of good food, good fun, massage, full medical, team support – it was my mini Olympics. We had groovy Canadian uniforms – we had uniforms for travel, for the opening and closing ceremonies, for training, for relaxing, for racing, for podium – and we were sponsored by Roots so the clothes were very cool! Flying over, we were on a smoking flight and all of us were coughing and felt so sick sitting beside all of these smokers! The men’s team consisted of Mark Bates, Andrew MacMartin, and Stefan Jacobson. Days before the race, the whole men’s team got the flu – Stefan could not even race! Mark and Andrew were both sick but Mark ended up with the silver. For the women, Karen Smyers won the gold and Kirstie won silver – I finished 7th and the women won the team gold! When we won the gold and went on the podium to receive our medals and hear our Canadian anthem, it was so special – I just could not hold back the tears. Later I was honored to be Canada’s flag bearer in the closing ceremonies!
Sadly, I never qualified for an Olympic Games event but for me, the Pan Am Games was the closest thing to the Olympics and I felt so special representing Canada at this event. And for some of our Canadian athletes in 2015, it will be their Olympics.
For Toronto, this is an amazing opportunity. Many people will think that it is a waste and we have bigger problems that need to be addressed. But the GTA needs this event. We need the sporting facilities – we need more 50-meter pools – we need the sports fields – our current facilities need upgrading. And these games create a buzz. If we do it right, our youth will put away the video games and Facebook and embrace sport. And in a society of childhood obesity and less than motivated young people, this isn’t a perk for Toronto but a NEED!!! And it will create 15,000 jobs in the GTA!!
I sure hope that I get to be involved in the Games in a big way – I want to have impact – that has always been my goal in sport. Here is to the Greater Toronto Area’s win – our first win in a long time. Hopefully, it will lead to an Olympic’s bid win, but if not, it is a win and our young people will be the true champions.