BC Winter Games blazed a trail to the Olympics and Paralympics

BC Winter Games blazed a trail to the Olympics and Paralympics

Author: BC Games Society/Friday, February 12, 2016/Categories: 2016 News, 2016 BC Winter Games, Alumni, Freestyle Skiing, Wheelchair Basketball

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by Emanuel Sequeira, Penticton Western News 

Kristi Richards’ path to the Olympics was paved by competing in the BC Winter Games.

“It was that little spark of what’s to come,” said Richards, who will the keynote speaker at the BC Winter Games opening ceremony in Penticton, Feb. 25. “The real spirit of the Games and that kind of an event — it’s an energy unlike anything else. It’s absolutely magical, uplifting and energizing.”

Richards also remembers feeling the pride and spirit of the Games in Comox Valley in 1995, the year she competed.

“It was really cool. All staying together in the school gyms … the camaraderie,” said Richards, a two-time Olympian, 2007 world champion and two-time national moguls champ. “It was the same thing when I walked into the Olympic village in Vancouver in 2010. It was just that real Canadian pride. Connecting with all the other athletes. We have such a strong respect for each other.”

The Summerland native said going to the BC Games, the opening ceremony and everything that surrounds it is what makes the experience so special. The Apex Freestyle Club grad said competing prepares athletes for future international competitions. Athletes get that first sense of media attention, of having a bigger event around their sport.

“It’s not just about your sport, it’s about dealing with all the pressure, all the social commitments, your family and friends. Everyone that is cheering you on,” said Richards. “It’s a different kind of feeling. It’s a different pressure that just kind of being out there on your own.”

Richards, 34, encourages the athletes to open themselves up to an experience without expectations.

“Go in with that willingness to experience the magic,” said Richards. “It is not only special for the athletes, but like we saw in 2010 for the Vancouver Olympics, it’s really special for the community. It’s a time to get together and support something that is all positive.”

Two other athletes who competed in the BC Winter Games and advanced to the Olympic stage are Kelowna’s Kelsey Serwa and Fort St. John’s Bo Hedges. Serwa, like Richards, developed friendships that remained.

“I think the coolest part about the friends I made at the BC Winter Games is that many of those girls continued on to the Canada Winter Games and further on the Olympic Games with me,” said Serwa, a ski racer on the Canadian national team. “Those that made it to the Olympic games include Georgia Simmerling and Elli Terwiel.”

The 26-year-old remembers the long bus ride from the Okanagan to Williams Lake in 2002 like it was yesterday. It was packed full of young and eager competitors, parent volunteers and coaches. She remembers the excitement of signing in at the Games and receiving her accreditation (which she still has in a collection of keepsakes). She recalls eyeing up her competition.

“It was a great experience and loads of fun,” said Serwa, who won a gold medal at the BC Winter Games. “Too often we find ourselves trying to figure out the perfect recipe for building the next generation of successful athletes, losing sight of the true purpose of sport — to have fun, create meaningful relationships, and to build long-lasting skills including teamwork, perseverance, goal-setting, living a healthy lifestyle and more.“

Serwa’s career highlights include a 2010 Winter X Games Aspen bronze medal, 2011 Winter X Games Aspen champ, 2011 FIS world champ and 2014 Olympic silver medal.

Her message to the athletes is to experience the Games for everything it is.

“Have fun, get to know your fellow competitors, get to know competitors from other sports so you can cheer them on,” she said. “Take part in as many festivities as you can, and when it comes time for you to compete, put in your best effort.”

Hedges, a silver medal winner in wheelchair basketball in North Vancouver in 1996, said athletes competing should know it’s just about having fun and enjoying the moment.

“It’s a great opportunity to compete against your peers and to go see a new community,” he said. “It could be your one and only opportunity so enjoy it the most. For some others, it will be kind of a stepping stone along the way. Get the most out of the experience and have fun with it.”

Hedges, who ended up in a wheelchair at 13 after breaking his back when falling out of a tree, competed in the Games at 16. He remembers the athletes and everyone coming together. He described it as a mini athletes village.

“It was a pretty neat experience overall,” said Hedges, who has a gold and silver medal from the Paralympics and is a two-time world junior champ. “It kind of opened my eyes up to the possibilities within wheelchair basketball.”


PHOTO: Penticton's Kristi Richards completes a jump while finishing the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Freestyle Skiing Ladies Moguls event at Cypress Mountain.  Credit: Don Denton, Black Press


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