Olympians, kids kick off Sports Day in Canada in Hamilton

The Sochi Winter Olympics are just 74 days away, but Canadian snowboarder Caroline Calve spent Monday morning in a Hamilton gym helping elementary school navigate an obstacle course.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are just 74 days away, but Canadian snowboarder Caroline Calvé spent Monday morning in a Hamilton gym helping elementary school navigate an obstacle course.

"It brings it back to what sport is all about — having fun," a beaming Calvé told CBC Hamilton.

"I think it's great to have a day that's all about sports."

Calvé was one of four Olympians on hand at Westmount Recreation Centre to kickoff Sports Day in Canada, a nationwide event sponsored by RBC and supported by CBC Sports. Around 100 elementary students from R.A. Riddell Academy School and Annunciation of our Lord school attended the event which aims to get kids active no matter what level the sport.

“From playground to podium,” as RBC’s Jane Broderick put it.

Inside the sunny gym, the kids ran through a series of activities. There was a fun twist on soccer, a version of dodgeball with pool noodles swapped in, and an agility course that had even the young basketball players sweating.

Along with Calvé, Olympians Greg Westlake, Canada’s sledge-hockey team captain, Becky Kellar-Duke, a retired Olympic hockey hero who struck gold three times, and Brian Price, the coxswain of the Men’s 8 Olympic rowing team joined the fray. Within minutes, Canada’s elite athletes turned back into playful kids.

“I think we need to get more of this kind of program where they learn the movements instead of worrying about learning the sports,” said Annunciation of our Lord’s gym teacher Brian Flood as he watched his students take on the agility course.

“That's what this is teaching me, to go back to play time.”

Riddell’s phys. ed. teacher Lisa Henry agreed.

"It's really important for kids to be playing, just going outside. Organized sports is great, but learning those basic movement skills are the foundation."

What was it like to have the Olympians there?

"It’s amazing. I love there's some female Olympians … for the girls that's fantastic,” Henry said.

“They’re are a great inspiration to our children. I just saw it in [the children’s] eyes."

Program aims to get all kids active

The event emphasized the need for all kids, regardless of skill or athletic inclination, to stay active. It’s a message that resonated with Westlake, who was forced to move from Ottawa to Toronto when he was in elementary school.

The CBC's Scott Russell, centre, does a live television hit next to Sochi-bound snowboarder Caroline Calve, right, and Greg Westlake, Canada’s sledge-hockey team captain, left, at Hamilton's Westmount Recreation Centre. (John Rieti/CBC)

"One of the things that really helped me make new friends was sports. Whether I was good, or sucked, it didn't matter," the Paralympian said.

In Toronto, Westlake signed up for a hockey team and a martial arts club. It was only by playing a variety of sports, he said, that he settled on hockey.

His advice for the kids today: "Be active, do as many sports as you can … you'll find what you love to do."

For snowboarder Calvé, pushing limits means flying down some of the world’s biggest mountains. It’s physically safer for most kids to try a new sport, but Calvé recognizes it’s hard for many kids to step outside their comfort zone. Why should they do it?

"It's by doing things that are maybe a little outside my comfort zone that gives me enormous confidence,” she said.

She’s hoping today’s event was a good first step.

"A lot of kids will shy away from participating in things because they don't think they're good enough. I think days like this create an opportunity,” Calvé said.

"They can discover they're better than they thought."

The official RBC Sports Day in Canada is on Saturday, Nov. 30. CBC Sports will have a special broadcast from Calgary to celebrate the event.


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