Despite overcoming vast distances, young athletes from the East Kootenays are getting in their final, and sometimes rare, practices and gearing up for the upcoming BC Summer Games.
The biennial event, taking place in Surrey from July 19 to 22, will feature almost 2,400 athletes and more than 3,200 volunteers. The province is divided into eight regions that compete against each other. The East and West Kootenays are combined to form the Kootenay region team.
Cameo Hanlon of Sparwood is the only player from the East Kootenays on the Kootenay region girls’ basketball team.
For Hanlon, 14, the hardest part has been getting everyone together to practice.
“We are pretty spread out. We haven’t got to practise as much as we’d like,” said Hanlon, whose dream is to play college basketball in the United States and eventually make it to the WNBA.
Hanlon has been looking forward to the games for over a year.
“I’m really excited and not really nervous. I’m feeling pretty confident with our team and I think it will be a good experience,” said Hanlon, adding that winning or losing at the games will not define success in her mind.
“Success will be working as a team, enjoying ourselves, having a good attitude, a good time and being able to work on our basketball as well.”
Kim Matson, head coach of the girls’ basketball team praised Cameo for her hard work and focus when practicing with the team and on her own.
“Cameo is one of the most dedicated players I know,” said Matson.
Including Hanlon, the East Kootenays will supply 10 athletes from five sports.
Participating in athletics, also known as track and field, are Robyn Anderson of Jaffray, Samantha Scheller of Jaffray, and Lindsay Weech of Fernie.
James Johnston and Blake Peebles, both from Sparwood, will compete in beach volleyball.
Girls’ volleyball will feature Maya Streloff of Jaffray and Halle Soukoroff of Fernie.
Competing on the Triathlon team are Jacob Blair of Fernie and McKinley Richards of Fernie.
Richards, 14, and her triathlon coach, Heather Johnson, will actually meet for the first time when the Kootenay team flies out for the games.
“I’m pretty nervous because everyone there will be on huge triathlon teams,” said Richards, adding that her strength is in running as she’s been in the running club and on the track team at school.
Johnson said she’s been relying on e-mail communication with her team instead of face to face.
“The distance apart, getting thrown into it, never meeting each other. Being separated by big mountain ranges can be tough,” said Johnson, adding, “Getting people rounded up to form a community is a challenge.”
Johnson wants to emphasize the passion that she and the athletes share.
“Every time I go out I learn more from the kids and it is a great experience. They are very inspirational,” said Johnson. “I do it because I love it.”
Andrew Zurrin is coaching the Kootenay region girls’ volleyball team. He says the biggest challenge has been bringing team members together to practise.
“Getting them together is the toughest part. They are so busy and they have so many commitments. You are usually missing one here and one there,” said Zurrin.
Zurrin, who’s coached 22 different teams ranging from grade eight all the way up to university, said the draw for him is watching the kids grow and seeing their hard work pay off.
“I like seeing people succeed. When they are jumping around the court and happy with what they’ve accomplished, that feels good,” said Zurrin. “You establish a bond with the kids. I love the different personalities that you meet, life is about meeting people.”
Zurrin acknowledged that teams from the coast usually have more resources and a larger athlete pool to choose from. However, he is not allowing that to be an excuse or distraction for his team.
“Coast teams are tough, but I like the talent level on this team and right now they are playing real well,” said Zurrin. “In girls volleyball anything goes. We’ve got some really strong middles, but the beauty of volleyball is that you have to play as a team.”
According to Kelly Mann, president and CEO of BC Games, the event wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of his staff and the volunteers.
“There are some incredibly terrific people in the province and I get the joy of working with them,” said Mann, who has been working for BC Games for almost 20 years.
“I’ll keep doing this as long as I continue to have fun. Everything has its frustrations, but I forget about them when they march into the opening ceremony. That is the absolute reward, seeing the kids’ smiles.”