He may be getting ready to fling himself face-first down a steep ice track at breakneck speed in hopes of winning an Olympic medal, but Kelowna skeleton racer Eric Neilson still found time Thursday to take a moment out of his busy pre-Games schedule and thank his home-town supporters.
Moments before hundreds of Rutland Middle School students gathered for a pep rally to show their support for Neilson, who went to RMS and whose mom works there as a certified teaching assistant, Neilson emailed rally organizers a video-taped message thanking them, the students and the community for their support.
“I know a lot of time and effort went into the projects and the rally and that’s really good,” said Nelison in the video shown to the students during the rally. “You don’t know how much it means to me to have such a great group of kids, and the whole community, backing me.”
Neilson, racing in his first Winter Olympic Games, only took up the support six years ago and has already become a top contender for a medal.
His parents, Fiona and Brian, were on hand at the school Thursday and called the level of support for their son, especially from the RMS students and staff “unbelievable.”
Each class at the school undertook a project to show their support for Neilson—31 projects in all—and Fiona Neilson said her son was thrilled when he learned of what the kids had done.
“Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming,” she said tearing up.
The parents will fly to Russia next week to cheer on their son, who they said has worked so hard for this moment considering his late entry into the support.
Training to be a physical education teacher, he took it up as part of fitness training program and was so god he caught the eye of Bobsleigh Canada who invited his to train in Calgary.
Neilson is one of two Kelowna athletes on the Canadian team in Sochi, the other being local freestyle skier Kelsey Serwa.
On Thursday, city Coun. Colin Basran, on behalf of Mayor Walter Gray, proclaimed Feb. 6 as Eric Neilson Day in Kelowna.
Decked out in specially made t-shirts with the words Go Eric Go and a gold medal on the front and four lines describing him on the back, the students at RMS cheered loudly during the rally, especially when Neilson’s parents spoke and when they learned they would get to hear directly from the athlete himself.
The back of the shirts read:
He is straight outta Rutland
He is an Olympic skeleton racer
He works for Canada Post
He loves sushi and peanut butter
He is Canada’s Eric Neilson
“I just hope he does his best,” said his father following the rally. “A medal would be icing on the cake after all he has achieved so far.”