Amy Gough will always remember her first time barreling head-first down a frozen Olympic track on a tiny sled. How could she forget.
It was 2002 and she’d been dragged out on a double date to a “Discover Skeleton” event at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, where she was working for a hotel at the time.
The track was built for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and during the Discover sessions, beginners got chance to slide down the track reaching speeds of 80 km/h.
“Why am I doing it?” Gough thought to herself as she prepared for her turn down the track. “I was totally scared.”
But by the time she reached the bottom she was screaming: “That was amazing!”
The date didn’t turn into a lasting romance, but the skeleton ride changed the trajectory of her life.
When she climbed back up the hill for a second ride, she asked the track attendants to give a her a good push.
“I want to go faster!”
That weekend she took a training session so she raced down from the top of the track, reaching a speed of around 100 km/h.
“It was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I was hooked,” said Gough, who will be inducted into the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame on April 25.
In 2003, she decided she wanted to try out for the Canadian team so she’d have a chance to compete and experience other ice tracks.
She didn’t make the cut. Gough, who attended Abbotsford Senior secondary and was part of the senior Panthers team that won a B.C. rugby championship, admits she wasn’t in the proper shape at time of the skeleton tryout, so she dropped 40 pounds and tried out again later.
Four years after her first-ever slide, Gough was on Canada’s World Cup team and finished seventh in the overall points standings. The Abbotsford native spent the next two seasons predominantly on the Intercontinental Cup circuit, winning three races in 2008-09.
She was back on the World Cup tour in 2009-10, where she won silver at Park City, Utah, and posted a trio of other top-10 finishes.
But the best was yet to come – earning a spot on the Canadian team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“That was special – being able to compete on your home turf is really amazing. The opening ceremonies were surreal,” she said.
Equally unbelievable was standing at the start line at the Whistler Sliding Centre and looking out to see thousands of red-and-white adorned fans cheering on the Canadian team.
Normally, she was used to seeing 30 or 40 fans at the top of a track.
“It was just really amazing to be able to make it there.”
Gough was in second place following the first Olympic run in Whistler, trailing only eventual gold medallist Amy Williams of Great Britain. She would eventually end up in seventh place, just 0.65 seconds away from a podium spot.
In 2010-11, she returned to the World Cup circuit, earning a trio of bronze medals to finish fifth in the overall standings. In 2011-12, she won her first World Cup race at Winterberg, Germany and added another bronze medal for a sixth-place overall finish.
Gough, who works in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, retired from the sport in 2012 after sustaining a series of concussions in her career.
Gough learned about her Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame nomination from a friend on Facebook.
“I was very honoured. It’s amazing.”
At age 43, Abbotsford Rugby Football Club senior men’s head coach Harry Toews still occasionally suits up for his team on Saturdays.
It’s likely that some of his opponents — many of whom are half his age — probably don’t know they are playing against rugby royalty, a soon-to-be-member of the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame.
The induction is in recognition of an outstanding rugby career that took Toews around the world.
“It’s a very great honour,” said Toews, who returned to live in Abbotsford five years ago after playing pro and semi-pro rugby in England for more than a decade.
Toews played all sorts of different sports growing up – hockey, football, soccer – but when he started playing rugby at 16 at Abbotsford Senior secondary, he immediately liked the fact that players weren’t typecast by size.
Because Toews was big – 6’ and over 200 pounds – on the football field he was only considered as an offensive or defensive lineman. But in rugby, he was able to showcase different skills and abilities, from running with the ball to kicking and tackling.
“It allowed me to use lots of different skills and abilities in one sport.”
Toews played on the Panthers squad that captured the AAA boys high school ruby title in 1989 and also suited up for the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club (ARFC) youth teams and B.C. U17 squad.
At UBC, he was a four-year starter on the T-Birds rugby team and also played for the Valley Venom senior men’s all-star squad and won a pair of national titles with the B.C. senior men’s side.
Toews earned himself a spot on the Canada’s national program in 1998 and began an international career that would include 11 caps. When asked about his on-field career highlights, Toews listed his first cap, which took place in Japan.
Rugby has taken him around the globe, from Argentina to Australia, and across Europe to Japan, to name just a few.
Signing a pro contract to play professionally in England also ranks near the top of his career accomplishments – especially considering the fact that he was a foreign player from a non-traditional rugby country when he joined the Leicester Tigers in 1998 and was part of their Premiership championship season.
Toews returned to Canada for work with the national team before travelling back to England in 2001 to play for Rotherham for three seasons, winning two National Division titles. There, he played with Abby hall of fame members Mike Schmid and John Cannon.
Toews continued playing semi-professionally in England’s third tier as captain of the Sheffield Rugby Club before returning home to complete his playing career with the ARFC.
He now serves as the ARFC’s senior men’s head coach – and still likes to suit up on Saturdays occasionally.
Tickets for the Hall of Fame induction evening banquet on April 25 are available at Hub Fire Engines (3175 McCallum Rd., phone 604-859-3124, email email@example.com). As well as honouring this year’s two inductees, the hall will also be honouring youth sports by naming 10 individuals and seven teams to its annual Wall of Fame.