It's a beautiful day in Halifax, one of Canada's oldest cities. The view from the Citadel out towards the Halifax harbour is grand. The horizon seems endless.
In sport, it wasn't always that way in this city or this region.
For many years, the Maritimes were considered a "have-not" area when it came to high performance athletics. The vast majority of Canadian sporting stars have traditionally emerged from Quebec, Ontario or the West.
That's partly changing, thanks to the completion of Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic, which hosted the 2011 Canada Winter Games to great acclaim.
The facility is a $45-million project funded by all three levels of government -- federal, provincial and municipal.
Inside, the guts of the building are palatial. There is a six-lane, synthetic running track, a myriad of state-of-the-art exercise machines, three full gymnasium courts, a 25-metre competitive-style swimming pool, a high-performance training facility and a fully equipped sports science lab.
It's something that is brand spanking new and the crown jewel of Eastern Canada's commitment to sport. In March of 2011, just after the completion of the Canada Games, the facility opened to the public and it's become a haven for members of the community eager to engage in healthy living.
In the midst of the aerobics classes, the treadmill warriors and those logging laps in the pool, there is evidence that investment in this kind of facility is about to pay dividends in a big way.
"Have you ever touched an Olympic medal?" Mark de Jonge asks some star-struck children shaking their heads.
"Neither have I until about six weeks ago!"
De Jonge passes around the kayaking bronze medal he won in London in the K1-200. He's one of the fastest men in the world in his discipline and holds the best time ever recorded in the sprint.
"Last winter, I was here every day," he said, referring to the Canada Games Centre.
"You can get to a certain level by working hard in a Rocky-type gym. But to excel, to get that edge, you need access to sport science and the best facilities."
With that, de Jonge is off to the pool to dip his boat in the water and give the youngsters a demonstration in the not-so-easy art of flat water kayaking. There are a few anxious moments when capsizing the boat looks like a certainty for more than one of the rookie paddlers. Then, de Jonge's steady hand and smooth stroke combine to avert a watery end to what might be an all too adventurous maiden voyage. Mostly, it's smooth sailing as the kids get their rhythm in good order under his watch.
"It's been a struggle trying to stay here in Halifax," he admitted. "All of the facilities in our sport were in Montreal and that's where the team trains as a group, so to have this here is a bonus."
De Jonge is a civil engineer with a degree from Dalhousie University who needs to stay in the area because he has a consulting job with a local engineering firm. Originally from Calgary, he's spent nearly 20 years in Halifax and honed his sporting craft in Nova Scotia. Now that the Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic is in full swing, it means he doesn't have to move to pursue his Olympic ambitions to the fullest. Perhaps of greater importance is the fact that more Mark de Jonges, in a variety of sports, will soon be on the way because this place is available to aspiring local athletes.
"It's always been a challenge in this part of the country," de Jonge admitted. "A facility like this means things will change for high performance athletes from the region."
The thing about sporting excellence is that while some of it reveals itself naturally, much of it needs to be cultivated. Champions are born but also made. By building the Canada Games Centre in Halifax, decision makers have made a commitment to the youth of the community for succeeding generations.
In de Jonge, this remarkable place has already helped produce an athlete capable of standing on the top of the international podium. It has also given rise to more athletes from Nova Scotia on Canadian Olympic rosters than at any other time in history.
Still more significant is the understanding that the gleaming Canada Games Centre in Halifax is sowing the seeds for so much excellence yet to come.
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