Small Town, Big Dreams

We are a week or so from the Pan Am and Para Pan Am Games where Canada will welcome the best athletes from the Americas to push themselves in sporting competitions that celebrate excellence achieved through hard work and perseverance. The Games allow countries to come together and to celebrate achievements by able-bodied and disabled athletes and all of Ontario is joining in the celebration of the Games and what they represent. The Durham Region is hosting Pan Am and Para Pan Am events at venues in Oshawa, Pickering, Ajax and Whitby, and last week the Pan Am Torch Relay weaved its way across Durham to celebrate the Games and to get our communities engaged in the hosting experience. However, a quick look around our community will show that all of us can find inspiration and the pursuit of excellence right here on our doorstep this summer.

As I write this column, the Chicago Blackhawks have just won their third Stanley Cup in recent years. For any Canadian kid growing up playing hockey – me included – playing in the NHL was the elusive dream that led you to dig a little deeper in practice.  It was beyond the wildest dreams of most kids to not only play in the NHL, but to hoist the Stanley Cup.  This dream has become a reality for Orono’s Bryan Bickell who has been a critical part of the success of the Blackhawks. In Clarington, I think everyone has become a Blackhawks fan in recent years. His hard work that began in the small town rink in Orono continues to inspire young people in our area.

Canada is also hosting the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the top female soccer players in the world are taking part.  Canada is a contender to win the World Cup given the team’s hard fought bronze medal in the London 2012 Olympics and their world class talent.  Some of this talent has been drawn from local women. Allysha Chapman is a defender from Courtice on Team Canada. She grew up playing in our area and now plays professionally with the Houston Dash.  She attended Louisiana State University on scholarship and has the chance to win a world championship on home soil. She also serves as an incredible example to other young people on the ability to combine sports and academics for amazing opportunities.

These breakout performances this summer by young athletes build upon tremendous success by others in the last few years.  Tara Watchorn from Newcastle won gold with the women’s hockey team in Sochi and recently won the Clarkson Cup with her club, the Boston Blades.  Matt Morison from Burketon is a two-time Olympian and one of Canada’s top snowboarders winning several World Cup Races. Uxbridge’s Jessica Phoenix and Port Perry’s Michelle Mueller competed in the eventing Equestrian event in the 2012 Olympics. Courtice native Ricky Foley has returned to the Toronto Argonauts, is a three-time CFL champion and has been named the league’s and Grey Cup’s Top Canadian. These are just a few standouts produced by the small towns and cities in Durham.

Finally, our community is also shining on the arts scene right now and shows that our talents extend beyond the fields of athletic endeavor to the stage. You cannot travel a few blocks in Toronto at the moment without seeing Jonathan Goad on billboards and bus shelters across the city. Jonathan is starring in Hamlet at the Stratford Festival this summer in the title role that is considered the most prestigious and the most challenging role in live theatre. The Stratford Festival is one of the top Shakespearean festivals in the world and Hamlet is at the centerpiece of their 2015 repertoire. Jonathan cut his teeth as an actor on the stage at Bowmanville High School and for those of us who were privileged to act alongside him, we knew his talents would take him far.

This summer, young people in the towns and villages across Durham need only to look at the exceptional athletes, artists and actors that come from our community as role models. These women and men demonstrate that talent, hard work combined with the support from family, from passionate coaches and dedicated teachers can lead to success that is world class.  Big things have been coming from the small towns in Durham in recent years and we should celebrate this success and congratulate our young people when they strive for excellence.


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