I started running competitively when I was 12 years old. There was an announcement about tryouts for the school track team, so that day I joined a group of kids on the back field of Avalon Junior High in Edmonton, Alberta to see if we had what it took to make the team. As I recall, we all made the team.
The track coach, Mrs. Jones, asked me what distances I wanted to try out for. I said, “The longest ones.” I’d never run competitively before, but I liked to run and I thought that running longer distances would be the most fun. I was all legs back then. The rest of my body had yet to catch up to the pace at which my legs were growing. Those legs were built for running long distances.
At our first track meet, I was slated to run the 800 metre race. I remember that first race like it was yesterday. I was nervous, but excited. The starter gun went off and I ran with everything I had twice around the 400-metre track. I didn’t yet know about pacing myself or race strategy. I just ran my heart out, and I won. That year, I went on to place first at the district meet, and then I won gold at the city championships.
For the next five years, I didn’t stop running. I joined the Capital City Track Team and trained five days a week. I ran in meets all around Edmonton, across Alberta, and as far away as Saskatoon.
In 1985, I represented my region at the Alberta Summer Games in Fort McMurray. It is one of my most memorable experiences as a young athlete. It was exciting to be with the best young athletes in the province for an intense weekend of competition, and to travel to a part of Alberta I’d never seen before. And winning a medal at the games was one of the highlights of my running career.
The young athletes who are coming to Cowichan this week to participate in the BC Summer Games are here because of their own dedication, hard work, and commitment to being the best they can be. What they may not yet realize is that they will be making memories that will last forever.
When I was younger, racing was all about where I placed, whether I won a medal, or broke a record. Now I look back and recognize that all of the most important aspects of competition had nothing to do with where I finished in the race.
Participating in sports teaches us about discipline and determination, about being part of a team, and pushing our limits. It teaches us about overcoming defeat and how to lose with grace. It teaches us that exercise is something that makes life better, and can bring us joy and well-being. Though competitive running ended for me after Grade 12, running has remained a joyful and satisfying part of my life.
To the young athletes who are competing in this province’s 40th BC Games: I wish you all the best. I hope one day you will look back on this event, and these years of competition, as a time when you built character, forged life-long relationships, and raced or played your hearts out. Regardless of the outcome of your efforts this weekend, the lessons of sport will remain with you into adulthood, where you, too, may recognize that the value of your effort went far beyond the podium.
Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.