Words of wisdom welcomed

Adam Kleeberger at the podium during Sunday
Adam Kleeberger at the podium during Sunday's Cowichan Valley Youth Athlete of the Year awards.
— image credit: Judy Teasdale Photography

Athletes who’ve been at the top of their games addressed the top 20 Valley Youth Athletes of the Year assembled at Shawnigan Lake School Sunday to tell them about the highs and corresponding lows of their careers.

Guest speaker Adam Kleeberger and special guest Dannie Richards put things into perspective for the athletes that not everything is ever going to go according to plan despite best intentions. Having said that, though, they both gained so much in personal development from being elite athletes.

Richards, a volleyball star from Shawnigan Lake who attended Frances Kelsey, was the co-winner of the Valley Youth Athlete of the Year award in 2007 with Hana Taiji. Despite standing just five-foot-five, Richards was a dynamic player from the beginning.

“It was in Grade 5 that I became absolutely hooked on the sport,’’ she said. “I had an amazing teacher that year who was a volleyball star with an equally-talented daughter that I absolutely idolized.

“I remember coming home and using sticky notes to plan out exactly what I was going to accomplish with my sport and how I was going to do it. My No. 1 sticky was that I would eventually represent Canada, just like my idol.

“I practiced every single day. Even before bed I would set the ball to myself until I could no longer hold my arms up and would finally fall asleep. I even slept beside my volleyball, which looking back I realize is a little bit strange, but seemed perfectly normal at the time.’’

Richards tried out for the national youth team in Grade 10 but got cut. Her determination paid off by making the team the following year.

Richards went on to win five consecutive national titles with the UBC volleyball team. It was a great experience for her, but there were obstacles to overcome.

“In my second year, I actually lost my No. 1 fan, which was my dad,’’ she indicated. “Had it not been for my team of truly amazing girls, I don’t know that I would have returned to school. It was their love and support and my own willingness to be there for the team that enabled me to continue playing.’’

Kleeberger, known world-wide for having the most famous beard in history next to the members of ZZ Top, talked about his trials and tribulations representing Canada in international rugby competition. Injuries have always been his biggest obstacle, particularly in such a physically demanding sport as rugby. That was most evident in the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup.

“In the summer of 2011, I had shoulder surgery that had a four to six month estimation of return to play,’’ said Kleeberger. “Through personal sacrifice, hard work and most importantly, perseverance, I was able to not only return in time for the first game of that World Cup, but to be awarded man of the match honours for my performance.’’

Triathlete Maya Munzar, the 2012 co-winner of the Valley Youth Athlete of the Year award, provided encouragement to the top 20 athletes by telling them regardless of position their standards are already very high and they should be proud of their achievements.

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