Sports Day in Canada is Saturday, Sept. 29th. It's our annual celebration of sports at the grass roots level in this country.
In the lead up, what I'm discovering is that every day is -- or at least should be -- a sort of Sports Day in Canada.
Athletic pursuit is common to most Canadians and it's a pervasive part of the cultural landscape of our nation.
It's just natural.
Few would argue the notion that sport is good for you and that it could be even better if only we were willing to fully embrace it. There is an athlete in all of us and the innate desire to get out and find our place on the field of play is something instinctual.
This became apparent last week at the Celebration of Excellence, brilliantly orchestrated by the Canadian Olympic Committee, to honour the athletes who competed for this country at the 2012 London Games.
The venue for the acknowledgement of the Olympians has not been the most receptive territory in the past. Toronto is notorious for obsessing about professional sport while its allegiance to high performance, Olympic-style athletic endeavour has, more often than not, been lukewarm.
Yet on the day of the parade, thousands lined the streets of Toronto's financial district to wave and cheer on the more than 200 Olympians and Paralympians as they rode on floats and in convertible cars. Children were bussed downtown to Maple Leaf Square and gawked at videos of kayakers and divers played on the threshold of that pro sports temple, the Air Canada Centre.
That same night, inside the ACC, a gala dinner resembling a theatrical extravaganza raised more than $3 million for the Canadian Olympic Foundation.
At long last, Canada's men and women of high performance/amateur sport were idolized and showcased in a way that has been all too rare in the national experience.
And the athletes loved it.
"There is an incredible person behind each of these performers," noted Sylvie Bernier, the Olympic diving legend who served as Canada's assistant chef de mission in London. "We must continue to get to know them."
Indeed, Brent Hayden, winner of a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle at London and the first Canadian to stand on the Olympic podium in swimming's glory event, reflected a depth of character in reacting to the hero's welcome he received in Toronto.
"This is not why I swim, in order to get acknowledgement," Hayden said. "But I can tell you that it is very much appreciated."
And so, as Sports Day in Canada approaches, we'll go on a cross-country journey to see if this affinity for athletic activity and healthy competition is fact or fiction.
Partnered with ParticipACTION, we'll get a read on how many Canadians are finding ways to get in the game. True Sport, which is associated with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, will help promote the notion that these kinds of activities can be pursued with a sense of fairness, inclusiveness and universality.
We'll make our way to Vancouver, where soccer is strong. The city is the home base of the women's national team that won an historic bronze medal in London. We'll spend some time at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and set the table for a national dialogue on the value of the sporting lifestyle.
We'll go to Regina to celebrate coaches with the help of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are an integral part of their prairie community.
In Winnipeg, hockey at the highest level has made a dramatic comeback. But in the absence of the locked-out Jets, we'll meet with the team brass, which understands that the tentacles of the game dig far deeper into the Manitoba soil -- whether the pros are there or not.
In Halifax, Mark de Jonge, the Olympic bronze medallist in the K1-200 who studied civil engineering at Dalhousie University, will demonstrate the appeal of the very Canadian sport of kayaking and how it's making waves on the Atlantic coast.
And in Ottawa, we'll celebrate Jersey Day with the help of ultra- enthusiastic Minister of State for Sport Bal Gosal, who knows firsthand that Canadians from many walks of life desire to be part of a team.
On the actual day, our home base will be Niagara Falls, where Hockey Night in Canada's "Play On!" and the national street hockey championships will be contested. From that vantage point, we'll connect with the Canadian women currently competing in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan.
There will also be extensive coverage of World Cup triathlons from Yokohama, Japan, involving competitors from this country. As well, there is the women's world wrestling championships being held in Sherwood Park, Alta., just outside of Edmonton. Sports Day in Canada will have that, too.
In short, there's a lot going on out there and we aim to reflect it.
Before we hit the road Sunday evening, we started our journey by participating in the Oakville half-marathon and 10K with about 2,000 folks of all shapes and sizes.
It was a brilliant sunrise over the Lake Ontario shore and many of the competitors paused to admire the glorious sky before the gun went off and they began pounding the pavement.
I went along with them and joined in the race as they did. At times, I felt really strong. But there were moments when I struggled and wondered if finishing was in the cards.
In the end, I made it and got a medal just for taking part. Let me tell you, a prize was never more appreciated. The band played and then we handed out awards to the winners in every age group. Some were a lot older than me.
I was reminded of the words of the 19th-century American poet and physician, Oliver Wendell Holmes: "We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing."
That's why this road trip on the way to Sports Day in Canada is so appealing at the outset. I've got this feeling that most of us are still captivated by the sometimes unspoken magic of play.
We're about to find out.
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