Growing up with the Games: Winnipegger who competed in first-ever Canada Games helps host 2017 event

One winter day in 1967, strapped into a two-piece brown and yellow snowsuit with a long toque trailing down her back, a 10-year-old Shawnee Scatliff walked with a crowd of Manitoba athletes in a parade heralding the start of the first-ever Canada Winter Games.

Canada Summer Games start July 28 and wrap up Aug. 13 in Winnipeg

Shawnee Scatliff strikes a pose with her figure skating partner. (Submitted by the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame)

One winter day in 1967, strapped proudly into a two-piece brown and gold snowsuit with a long, tasseled toque trailing down her back, a 10-year-old Shawnee Scatliff walked with a crowd of Manitoba athletes in a parade heralding the start of the first-ever Canada Winter Games.

"I felt that those were my Olympics," Scatliff said on Monday, 50 years later. "That was the best experience of my whole life, being [able] to walk in with the rest of Canada in opening ceremonies and competing there."

She competed that year as a figure skater, and again in 1971. In 1977, she was in the Summer Games in St. John's, N.L., as a tennis player, before transitioning to coaching and then, finally, leading the Manitoba delegation as assistant chef de mission.

She hasn't missed a single Canada Games — winter or summer — ever since.

"I've seen Canada in an amazing light," she said.

Shawnee Scatliff competed in the first Canada Games in 1967. (CBC News)

This year the Games are being hosted in Winnipeg from July 29 to August 12. Scatliff is working for the host committee, helping prepare the city as the mission services consultant.

"I'm on the other side now," she said. "It is a little bit different. I want to show off our city, I want to make everyone feel welcome here and really enjoy their experience."

Most of the first-time athletes will have never seen so many people cheering them on, Scatliff said.

Fifty years after her own Games debut, she still remembers how the crowd made her feel pumped up.

Alan Cherniak and Shawnee Scatliff freeze for a photo. (Submitted by Shawnee Scatliff)

"That was a long time ago, but I did. I felt such a part of a team, and it was so exciting," she said.

Bits and pieces of non-sport related moments stand out in her memory as highlights, she said. In the 1971 Games, she got to stay at an old Eaton's building.

"I felt like I was in this Eaton's store but I got to live in it, which was exciting as well," she said.

Then there was the brief moment of parental panic she triggered when she couldn't resist flying down an enormous ice slide built in Quebec City for the 1967 Games.

"I went down it because I wanted to and I split my pants open," she remembered.

"My mom had to frantically find a sewing kit to sew them up so I could walk in the parade with pants that weren't split open."

Manitoba figure skating team (left to right): Diane Bentley, Flora-Mae McNeil, Robert Baxter, Bruce Kirby, Allan Cherniak and Shawnee Turk. (Submitted by the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame)

But her most treasured experience is watching her own children walk in the opening parade that meant so much to her as a kid.

All three of her children have competed in the Games for different sports. Her two daughters competed in synchronized swimming, rowing and shooting and her son competed in shooting.

"Those were very special games, and I'm glad they got to experience them," she said.

In a lifetime spent with the Games, Scatliff said she's never gotten tired of watching young athletes prepare and compete.

"I'm always excited for them. I see how excited they are when they arrive, when they get off their planes, they're going to enter the university, they're going to their dorms, they're in their team uniforms, they're looking at all the other athletes to see what colour their team uniforms are," she said.

"They're excited to compete, excited to be [in] their venues, and I feel it, because I know what they're going through, and I'm excited for all of them."

Since her first event in the '60s, Scatliff said she's watched the Games themselves grow.

"They're getting better and better. They're getting much higher-level, much higher standards at the Games," she said.

"So these games are very much a precursor to the Olympics for a lot of athletes, and you can see it. They're getting to that standard where everything has to be perfect for them to compete here, just as it is at the Olympics as well."

Scatliff said this year might be her last with the Games, and they're extra special to her because they're in Winnipeg.

"Everything is special about them. I think mostly because they are in Winnipeg and I think we are showing the Games to all of Canada in an amazing light, I think people will be very impressed with Winnipeg and what we've done so far," she said.

The Canada Summer Games kick off on July 28 and wrap up on August 13 in Winnipeg.