August 12, 2016 - 12:00 PM
Penny Oleksiak is a remarkable young woman. The Olympics aren’t yet over and she has already amassed four medals in swimming. At 16, she has achieved more medals in a summer Olympics than any other Canadian. And there can still be more, as she’s set to swim in the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday.
She is incredibly talented. There are others that need credit too. Along the way, there were parents, and coaches that helped. You can see the influence of parents and coaches all over Kamloops.
Like coaches of the Kamloops Long Blade Speed Skating club, which runs its training program all summer. As well as a weekly ice time at Brock Arena, the coaches provide weekly dryland training and inline skating for the kids and teens. The coaches could have packed it in for summer, but they’re there helping the kids. The parents are just as dedicated, getting the kids and youth out to the summer practises.
You can see it in the parents that give kids a chance to compete both in-town and across the province. Taking kids and teens down to the Coast or into the Okanagan to find stronger competitors. Swimmers and other athletes don’t get to the elite level without parents supporting them with their encouragement, time and financially. It’s very expensive to be flying all over the country to go to swim meets or other competitions.
There is an outpouring of support for Penny Oleksiak from across Canada. It’s wonderful to see. She has hundreds of fans here Kamloops, as well as the entire country. When Penny tweeted that she was “honoured and humbled” and that she was proud of being part of Team Canada, I was thinking, those are words we should be saying to her.
Oleksiak has inspired a new generation of young people to take up swimming. She’s also likely spurred on some swimmers who are closer to going to the Olympics to work harder. What are the current Kamloops swimmers, who swam at the recent Canadian Age Group Nationals in Calgary, thinking about Oleksiak’s races? Or the swimmers on Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack swim team?
There may not be another Penny Oleksiak for years to come. It is a unique combination of the individual and all the people who support them.
But it is clear that in Kamloops, there is the opportunity for another Penny Oleksiak to emerge. There are a huge range of sports that an individual can choose from. There is amazing coaching, as can be seen by the number of individuals and teams who compete provincially, nationally and internationally. Speed skating, track and field, volleyball, hockey and mountain biking are just some of the sports where top athletes have come out of Kamloops.
As much as people talk about sport as being competitive, it is also fun. The coaches I know strive to make practises fun. And the kids and young people I know who have kept it up have made it a priority to have fun too.
Penny Oleksiak is a once in a lifetime superstar athlete, but here in Kamloops are all the ingredients for another Oleksiak to emerge: kids who enjoy what they’re doing, dedicated coaches, and supportive parents. It could be swimming, it could be triathlon, or it could be ultimate frisbee. But sometime in the future, it’s just as likely Kamloops will be home to the next Penny Oleksiak.
There’s no doubt: we’re the tournament capital of Canada.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.
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