It takes a family to raise an Olympian

It takes a family to raise an Olympian

by Judy Joseph-Black, Event Manager

Author: BC Games Society/Wednesday, October 10, 2018/Categories: Front Page, 2018 News

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It takes thousands of volunteers to host multi-sport games and it also takes thousands of parents to send inspiring athletes to compete at a provincial multi-sport games. Sometimes those families believe so strongly in the games experience that the memories make an indelible mark on both the children and the parents who raise them.

Take the Spence family for instance. All four children: Victoria (Tori), Sara, Josie and Eric, competed at the BC Games – both summer and winter. Mother, Cathy Turnbull Spence, is a former national-calibre speed skater who won North American and Canadian titles including winning gold at  the World Championships in 1979 and setting a new World record in the 1000m event and believes the Games are a valuable experience that spring boards young athletes into higher level competitions and multi-sport games.


“The BC Games was a goal to strive for with all four of my children and they were very excited to be part of the experience,” says Cathy. “Most importantly it was a fun experience for them - they were able to hang out with other friends in the sport and meet new friends. Making friends and having fun in one’s sport is critical to a young athlete’s desire to continue in the sport at this developmental stage. The Games provided the opportunity for both these factors in addition to a quality competition which encouraged them to push their abilities to a higher level.”


Owen, the patriarch, was taken from the family in a fall from a ladder in 2008. He was also a national-calibre athlete in his chosen sports of cross-country skiing, cycling and rowing. Tori remembers training with her father leading up to the 2006 BC Summer Games in Kamloops.

“I participated in the triathlon events and earned a bronze medal in the duathlon,” says Tori. “My time preparing for this event consisted of hours spent with my Dad. He taught me how to ride and race bikes. Not only instilling a sense of competitiveness and pride, but also the tools and strategy it takes to succeed in such races.”

Both Tori and Josie competed in the 2008 BC Summer Games hosted in Kelowna. Tori competed in cycling while Josie tackled triathlon. The cycling and triathlon events were a few blocks away from each other.

“I remember my dad running back and forth between each event to cheer for us. These memories I am forever grateful for and made the BC Summer Games experience even more special.”

Not only did Tori compete in the BC Summer Games but she also competed in speed skating at both the 2006 and 2008 BC Winter Games where her mom volunteered as the coach and chaperone. 

“These Games are filled with memories of time spent with my younger siblings and with my Mom.  I remember not having the best luck during some races and my Mom sharing stories from her past speed skating career. This knowledge and wisdom made me feel more connected to her and also stoke my passion for the sport.”

“The BC Games provides a unique multi-sport experience which parallels that of the Olympic Games,” adds Josie who competed in speed skating at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. “It prepares up-and-coming young athletes for top level competition, while still having fun.  Events like this helped connect me to the greater sport community and inspired a heightened level of performance on demand.”

Sara echoes the theory that if you’re going to be successful in sport, you have to have fun. “I got to meet new people. It taught me how to strive for a goal and not give up.”

“I believe that sport has given my family something special,” continues Tori, who recently retired from the long track speed skating world cup team after 15 years. “It enabled us to feel close and connected through the toughest of times.”

Family is the tie that binds the Spence’s. And sport is the glue that will keep them together whether competing for fun or striving to climb to the top of that ever elusive podium.


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