By Kiirsten May
When Canada’s top young athletes take in the torch lighting ceremony for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, their minds will be filled with dreams of owning the podium. For many, however, the Games will offer a far different experience. Athletes will have to embrace new roles and learn valuable lessons from competing on a national stage.
That’s the message of Sami Jo Small – the three-time Olympian who holds two gold medals, five world championships and is a co-founder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Small will be emceeing the torch lighting ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 6, 2017.
Small has faced many different roles as a 10-year member of Canada's National Women's Hockey Team. She helped the team win Olympic gold medals in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and 2006 in Torino, Italy, but it wasn’t in the starting goalie role she had expected to play.
Small says these experiences forced her to focus on the accomplishment of the team above her own feelings of failure. “In life, you don’t always get to choose the role you play,” says Small. “But you do get to choose how you play it.”
Some Canada Games athletes may be in a starting position, while others may be asked to participate in a cheerleading role. Small advises, "You have to come to terms with it quickly, so you can be there for everyone else.”
The Games has a lot to offer young athletes beyond developing the strength to choose a positive outlook. Reflecting on her own years participating in the Canada Games in javelin and discus in 1997, Small says, “It’s an amazing chance to participate in a multi-sport games.”
“It’s an experience similar to the Olympics. Things like living in the village, eating in cafeteria, travelling, carrying your accreditation all the time, getting all the gear, the excitement of it all. Athletes go through the motions in Canada, so when they get to the Olympics, it’s second nature.”
Small won gold for Manitoba in javelin in the 1997 Canada Games in Brandon, Manitoba, but receiving the medal wasn’t her favourite moment. Instead, it was carrying the flag for Manitoba at the closing ceremonies and hearing the roar of the hometown crowd as she entered the stadium.
Small’s advice to this year’s Canada Games athletes is “Always look forward. Today you just have to be a little better than you were yesterday. You can look at life and sport that way.”