Winter Games

The dream is real for new speedskater

By Martha LeBlanc
Presentation Junior High
Corner Brook, Newfoundland

It was the end of August, 1998 when I laced on my figure skates for my first speed skating practice. The air was cool and damp on the ice surface at the Canada Games Centre as I glided on the ice to join the small group of skaters at centre ice. After a couple of practices, I decided to stick with this new sport so that I could build up my strength for figure skating. Little did I expect that this sport would lead me to compete at the 1999 Canada Winter Games.

At the end of October, I finally skated on my first pair of speed skates. They were a lot different from my figure skates but, after a few bumps and bruises, I learned to skate on them quite comfortably. After Christmas, we started training even harder as the Games tryouts were getting nearer. We trained everyday, either on or off the ice and sometimes even both. There were many early morning practices and many laps around the ice and Canada Games Centre track. These strenuous activities sometimes caused us to complain, but also brought our team together and helped us learn more about each other. By the Games, we had discovered each other's strengths and weaknesses and, because of this, we learned to appreciate each other. We were a "real team".

At last, the time had come. The first week of the Canada Games was over and it was my turn to fulfill my dream. The first stop was the accreditation centre. Our team marched in, equipped with our new coat, pants and matching backpacks. It was very exciting when I saw my name along with the word "athlete" written on my accreditation pass. I think that at that moment the thought that I was a part of this national sporting event finally kicked in for me.

After this, we loaded onto a waiting bus and headed towards the Athletes Village. The village consisted of 11 bunkhouses adjacent to Herdman High School, which contained the food services and lounge area for the athletes. When we arrived, I learned that myself and Kathryn Sparrow, the two youngest members of our team, would be sharing a room together for the next week. The rooms were small but very cozy. Once we were settled away, it was like a home away from home.

I decided that it was about time to test the food services area. I had heard from some friends that participated in the Games during the first week that the food was delicious. I soon found out that what they told me was absolutely the truth. There was an assortment of everything you could want including some great desserts. I realized that we were going to be treated like royalty!

Everything was going beautifully until I remembered one small detail- the competition! Our first races started on Monday. During the bus ride to Stephenville, everyone remained completely silent. We all realized that we would be racing against speed skaters from Quebec and Ontario who were North American and even world champions! My biggest fear was that I would get in the way and ruin their chances of attaining their goals. For some of them, speed skating was their life and I did not want to interfere with their dreams.

The first race was the most difficult but I tried to remain calm. I must admit, however, that it was quite a relief when that race was over. I had been lapped twice in my race but that is what we were told to expect. I was actually quite pleased in my performance and I was even more pleased when our times were posted. I had taken six seconds off of what was previously my best time at that distance! For me, this was a huge accomplishment. These good results kept happening all week long, both for me and my teammates. Everyone of us achieved at least two personal bests out of the six races that we were a part of. Many of the coaches commended us on how much we had improved over such a short period of time.

Our time at the village was also very memorable. We were able to meet athletes from all over Canada, including some people from our own Newfoundland team. Every night there was some special event to attend including concerts at Margaret Bowater Park and a Video Dance on the last night of the Games. It was also a lot of fun to go to go to the other sport venues in our spare time to watch the other sports. Needless to say, throughout our whole time spent there, we were never bored!

The last leg of our experience ended on a more emotional note. All of the athletes who participated in the various sports at the Games packed into the Annex to get lined up for the closing ceremonies. One of my most memorable moments was walking out behind the Newfoundland flag with the crowd in the Centre standing on their feet and cheering wildly for all of us. I have never been more proud to be a Newfoundlander and Canadian. We were even more excited when it was announced that we had won the Jack Pelech Award for the team exhibiting the most sportsmanship and competitive spirit. The rest of the ceremony was beautiful and I, along with many others, shed a few tears.

When the torch was extinguished, it suddenly dawned on me that my Games experience was over. As I think about it more and more, I realize that my experience at the Games will never really come to a close. I have memories that will never be forgotten and friends that will last a lifetime. As well, my hometown of Corner Brook will always feel a great deal of pride that comes with hosting such an event in the marvellous way that it did. The Canada Games will truly leave a legacy not only in my heart but also the hearts of all of us who experienced this fantastic event.