Canada's Sports Hall of Fame welcomes diverse champions
2017 class reveals complexity and richness of the sporting pursuit
An Olympic gold medallist once explained to me that there are two kinds of champions. The first is a person who wins a race or a big game, and becomes the pre-eminent athlete.
The other kind of champion is someone who believes in something, furthers a cause, and ends up making things better for others.
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and the Class of 2017, which is being inducted Thursday, embodies both those realities while also revealing the complexity and richness of the sporting pursuit in this country.
Established in 1955, the Hall now includes 620 members with the selection of six individual athletes, two builders and a legendary team, all of whom will be enshrined in the Calgary-based museum.
It's the mosaic–like nature of the Class of 2017 which is most pronounced and telling.
These nine new members who cross generational, gender and cultural divides combine to highlight a sports narrative unique to Canada as the country celebrates its 150th birthday.
There is a Masters champion golfer in Mike Weir, who is the only Canadian to have accomplished that feat. Also entering the shrine is the most decorated Winter Olympian in the nation's history in speed skater Cindy Klassen, who hails from a Mennonite background on the Manitoba prairie.
Included in the group is Lanny McDonald, a universally beloved hockey player, Stanley Cup Champion, and tireless community ambassador.
On the builder's side is neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, who has long advocated for safe sport through his work looking into the harmful effects of concussion. And there is also the late Dr. Robert Jackson a pioneering arthroscopic surgeon who forged the Paralympic movement in this country and internationally.
Lacrosse star — the late Gaylord Powless — an indigenous Canadian who endured bullying and racism while dominating the summer national game, speaks to the unsung nature of a wider contribution in a long overdue time of reconciliation.
"I want to thank my dad for being so awesome," said his daughter Gaylene Powless in accepting the honour. "He loved lacrosse. That love of sport lives on in our reserve and in our entire community."
Also joining the class is Carol Huynh, an Olympic champion in wrestling who fought to keep her sport on the program in future Games. The daughter of Vietnamese refugees taken in by a local church in small town British Columbia, Huynh articulated the significance of her selection.
"I have a refugee background and this is important, particularly in light of the refugee crisis today," she said. "This is proof that you can have a dream, come from any background at all, and make extraordinary things happen."
Perhaps the most high profile Olympian to be selected in the first year of his eligibility is triathlete Simon Whitfield. An Olympic gold and silver medallist and champion at every level, Whitfield chose another achievement to reflect upon when his name was called.
"The defining moment of my career was to carry the flag and represent this country and all that it stands for," Whitfield ruminated.
"Sport is a way to express yourself and to express your gift. But it's more than that. It's a way to live your values and to represent all the things that you stand for and that this country stands for. There is competitiveness to Canada but there is also openness and friendliness to our country as well."
The senior member of the Class of 2017 is 95-year-old Kay MacRitchie MacBeth. She is the last living player of the Edmonton Grads women's basketball team who enter Canada's Sports Hall of Fame as a fabled team. They still hold the record for success for North American team sport having compiled a record of 502 wins and only 20 losses between 1915 and 1940. They also captured four consecutive gold medals in Olympic competition.
"I was going to go into nursing but I got a basketball into my hands and couldn't let it go," she said with pride.
MacRitchie and the Grads were without question standard bearers for the exploits of women in sport not only in Canada but around the world.
"On the nights the Grads were playing people in Edmonton turned on their radios," she said with a little chuckle and a lot of fire in her eyes.
"But it wasn't only in Edmonton it was also in the outlying farming communities. When the Grads were playing the men got off their tractors shutdown their machinery, turned on the radio and proceeded to shut up, listen and cheer us on."
It was, I thought, the perfect exclamation point on the overwhelming character of this Class of 2017.
Here was a complex group of sporting achievers who had combined to reflect a complicated and fascinating collective at an important time in the national history.
All of them were vastly different but they also shared so much in common.
They were, each of them, champions who live in a country where anything and everything is still possible.