Friday, February 26, 2010

Paralympic Fever

My friend Stef has had the Paralympic Fever for months...and I think I just caught it! For $15 bucks each, I just bought tickets to see some pretty amazing events next month!

Also, the Paralympic Torch will be starting its journey in ESQUIMALT - at the Archie Browning Sports Centre no less! Check out the details here:

The Township of Esquimalt and the Defence Team from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt are joining forces to host one of only nine official 2010 Paralympic Torch Relay community celebrations in BC.

What: Paralympic Torch Relay

Where: Torch lighting at Archie Browning Sports Centre, 1151 Esquimalt Road

When: Saturday, March 6th, 2010 at approximately 9:45 a.m.

The Torch Relay will be a celebratory lead-in to Canada’s first ever Paralympic Winter Games, to run from March 12th to 21st, 2010.

“We are proud to be a celebration community and encourage every one to come out and honour our Paralympic athletes and their remarkable achievements,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins. “Let’s get together and celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime moment.”

There will be a pre-relay celebration in the Archie Browning Sports Centre parking lot beside Bullen Field starting at 8:00 a.m. The celebration—co-hosted by Township Councillor Bruce McIldoon and Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific—will feature a free pancake breakfast hosted by the Esquimalt Lions, a bouncy castle for the kids, a performance by the Naden Band of Maritime Forces Pacific, and display tents hosted by representatives from local disabled associations. “I hope residents from all municipalities will come and enjoy Esquimalt’s hospitality and meet the inspiring guests and athletes.” said Rear-Admiral Pile.

After a fire creation and the welcoming ceremony by the local First Nation community, the Torch Relay will get underway at approximately 9:45 a.m. It will be lit at the Archie Browning Sports Centre parking lot, do a loop around Bullen Park then continue on to Ship Point in Victoria via the waterway at Westbay Marina. The Navy will transport the flame first using one of their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) and then turn it over to the Navy dragon boat team who will bring the flame to shore where the celebration will continue in Downtown Victoria.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let the Games Begin

Sports have been a big part of my life since I was in Grade 6. Most of my travels have involved suitcases filled with equipment. My fancy jewellry has spent more time bundled safely in my mouthguard container than being worn. I met my husband on a field hockey pitch; so it probably comes as no surprise that gymasiums, fields and rec centres are the places where I've forged some of my closest friendships and learned some of my most valuable life lessons. However, my greatest sporting memory is not what you might expect.

Crossing the finish line at the marathon was pretty great. Winning a few trophies here and there in different sports was also nice. Drinking from the Stanley Cup was cool and made for some great photos…but it doesn’t top the list. My greatest sporting memory was a win that meant nothing to the rest of the world but everything to me.

I once played softball for the worst team in town. I was carefully selected as 3rd base, based on my skill of walking past the field just as the game was about to start. It was midseason, and in that Spring of Grade 8 many of the girls had begun to wander away from the ball diamond and into the Mall. The team needed someone to suit up or they would have had to forfit. The coach threw me an ill fitting, faded jersey that was probably older than I was. I tugged on mismatched baseball socks, grabbed a mitt, took a wild guess at what my blood type might be, forged my Mom’s signature and handed in the permission form.

Quickly, I learned why a 5 run limit had been established in little league. At 3rd base, I didn't have much to do but wave at the other team as they rounded my corner to home. In the bottom of the 5th, we were down about 21 to nothing. It was two out and runners were on 1st and 2nd. The batter slammed a ground ball right at me. I finally had a chance to make a play. I blocked the ball with all the grace of a field hockey goalie. Unsure of the forced play rule, I stamped my foot on the bag and then ran after the startled runner. Just to make sure she was out, I chased her down and tagged her with the subtle force of a raging rhino. “Welcome to the team kid” said the coach when he finally stopped laughing.

I WAS welcome. I was immediately taken into a circle of friends whose practice times consisted of seeing who could come up with the dirtiest joke and playing Full Tackle 500 Up. We were the team whose warm up consisted of eating Fun Dip and trying to talk the Umpire into giving us 5 more minutes to find another player. We rarely scored. We rarely made a play. We rarely stopped laughing. At 13, I was a tightly wound, anxious perfectionist. A competitive athlete in several sports, I took games seriously and frequently berated myself when I made a mistake. I had a sharp learning curve with this team. I had to simulataneously learn how to enjoy losing and how to forgive myself when I made a mistake. A lesson I am so grateful to have learned on the ball diamond...because I still need to practice it every single day.

The last game of the season began like any other - pooling the change we found in the couch cushions for a concession run. We were playing the best team in the league. Sponsored by a well known store, they were at the field in their freshly pressed uniforms long before the warm up time. They stretched as a team, strategized as a team and carried with them an air of expectation. An air of excellence hung about them. The only expectation that hung about OUR dugout was the expectation that we'd share our Big League Chew with everyone who had scrounged up a few coins. What I’ve always loved about sports though, is that on any given day, any thing can happen.

On this day – the other team couldn’t hit the ball. Batter after batter stepped up to the plate and struck out. The game carried on, much quicker than usual since we were weren’t waiting for the other team to score 5 runs to end each inning, and suddenly we realized that we were tied and it was the bottom of the 9th. The impossibility of this was commented upon in the dugout. Our coach spelled it out for us as clearly and eloquently as he could. I recall the pep talk being something close to "Oh my *&*(^%^!!! we could win this!”

The improbability continued. Somehow we ended up with the winning run waiting on 3rd and me safe at 2nd. There were two out and the smallest girl on the team stepped up to bat. She had been playing for years, but had probably not connected ball to bat since T-ball. She played the game because we were all friends and she was the friendliest of the bunch. Always kind. Always on time. When the rest of the team took turns punching each other and talking about cute boys, she tried to learn new skills and pay attention.

So there I stood, on 2nd base – right in the middle of field. I looked over at the dugout and saw my friends smiling with their arms around each other. I saw the disbelief and laughter on our Coach's lips. I realized that it really didn't matter that our worst hitter was standing in the batters box with the board lit up behind her. 2 out. 2 strikes. 3 balls. I was sure that we were not going to win and I was happy about it. I truly understood what it meant to play sports for the joy of playing.

Then, I looked at the girl in the batters box. I saw how bad she wanted this. Suddenly, I wanted to win this game for her. I wanted to win it because she had tried so hard all season and I could see the pressure on her face. I wanted to win it for underdogs everywhere. I closed my eyes. I held my breath. I heard the wood hit the leather and jumped off the bag in confusion. She had hit the ball.

I started running. I rounded 3rd in time to watch my teammate cross the plate at home. I knew what that meant. I knew that we had won but I absolutely could not process that information. I just couldn’t stop running. I ran till I felt my foot hit the plate. I ran till I felt my hands hit the wire fencing. I ran into the arms of my teammates who had rushed out of the dugout and onto the field with joy and disbelief.

Our win didn't change anything in the 1987 little league standings. We were so clearly the worst team in the league that nothing short of a miracle could have catapulted us out of last place. This win though, was the purest joy I have ever felt in sports. Something changed in me at that moment. I learned to love the midst of that improbable win.

As my kids and I sit down to watch the Olympics on TV, I know that most of the coverage will be on the medal winners. Their stories will be amazing. Their acheivements will be incredible. However, I hope that we'll also get to learn a little bit about the athletes who know that the podium is likely out of reach. The athletes who are there to realize a dream, to represent their country, ...knowing that they are consistently 1/1000th of a second slower than the rest of the competitors.

Every sporting event provides us with the opportunity to be inspired. I want my kids to be inspired to realize whatever goals they might set for themselves. I also want them to be inspired to play even when winning is not likely. There will always be joy on the podium. Let there be joy for the worst teams too.