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    Categories: Local Sports

Bring it on!

Josh Hinkle and Dana Koroluk start the second leg of the ATCO Gas Torch Relay through the streets of St. Albert for the Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games on a chilly Thursday afternoon. The torch relay signalled the start of the multi-sport and cultural event. Athletes are competing for medals in 13 sports. The games wrap up Sunday afternoon with the closing ceremonies at Performance Arena.

The stars shone bright during Thursday’s launch of the Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games.

“It’s a great day and it’s a great start to a great weekend,” proclaimed board chair Sandra Fenton.

Inside a packed Performance Arena during the opening ceremonies, Fenton said St. Albert was excited to open its doors as the host city for the multi-sport and cultural event.

“We are so looking forward to welcoming you all here for a fun-filled weekend in St. Albert. Whether you are a participant or a sponsor or a volunteer or a member of our community or a corporate sponsor, these games do not happen and they are not a success without your support. We are partners together in making this a fantastic weekend. Have a great time and bring it on!”

Pat Covington, president of the Alberta 55 Plus Association, saluted the 1,061 competitors as heroes for today’s youth.

“All of you here are an inspiration with your commitment to Alberta 55 Plus and to your zone. Very rarely do we see so many with such dedication. You are certainly great role models for your children and your grandchildren. How proud they must be to see you continually keeping your mind, your body and your spirit in such great shape by keeping yourself active,” she said. “You should all be especially proud of all of your accomplishments. Whether or not you’re a medal winner, you are a winner in the eyes of Alberta 55 Plus.

“Remember, participation is what we’re all about and if you win a medal that’s your ‘plus.'”

Covington also delivered a big shout-out the host committee’s board members and the army of volunteers needed to make these games the best ever.

“I’m sure that there were days when you all thought this day would never arrive and yet here we are and it’s all systems go,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to function without the dedication of all the volunteers. Thank you volunteers for working so tirelessly these past few months and for all of this week.”

Impressive start

Alpine skier Maria Urban of Calgary was quick to declare the St. Albert games a huge hit during Thursday’s festivities.

“I’m very impressed. The people here are happy and friendly,” said the double gold medallist at the Lethbridge games in 2009.

The 71-year-old danced the night away to the country twangs of Brett Kissell at the games reception following the opening ceremonies.

“I’ve got that games spirit,” she said. “You only have one time to enjoy life.”

Badminton player Jean LeBlanc was also cutting a rug on the crowded dance floor.

“It’s been a very enjoyable night. They’ve done a great job. The entertainment, food and music is very good,” said the Sherwood Park resident.

LeBlanc, 57, also won two gold in Lethbridge. She couldn’t wait to duplicate her feat in St. Albert for zone 5, which boasts the largest contingent of athletes of all eight zones with 190.

“It’s going to be fantastic,” she said. “Bring it on!”

Major event

The games are a big deal in St. Albert as a major component of the city’s year-long 150th birthday celebration.

“There was a lot of work to get to this day. A lot of people put in a lot of time and a lot of effort,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse. “You’ve got to feel real proud right now.”

The seed was planted for a glorious games when former city councillor Gareth Jones made the motion for St. Albert to go ahead with a bid presentation.

“I’m a big fan of any of the Alberta games. It brings people together and the community together,” he said. “There are 800 volunteers going to be involved and a lot of those have never met each other before until now because of the games.”

The bid committee, chaired by Doug Kennedy, put together a top-notch presentation that was approved in October 2008 by the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks & Wildlife Foundation and Alberta 55 Plus Association

“It has been a long two years for us and it’s been a lot of fun,” Fenton said.

Torch relay

The games officially got under way with the ATCO Gas Torch Relay. Jones and Dieter Schumann ran the last leg, from Red Willow Church to Servus Credit Union Place, where they lit the outside cauldron. Later, during the opening ceremonies, the veteran torchbearers jogged into Performance Arena and ignited the main cauldron at ice level to deafening applause.

“This is very special really, because it completes the loop for me,” said the 70-something Jones. “To be part of this is absolutely excellent.”

Schumann was also bursting with pride.

“I’m very honoured to do this. It’s tremendous,” said the 73-year-old. “I hope we encourage young people to do more sports and look after themselves and enjoy the quality of life when they retire.”

The relay team consisted of 16 members, divided into eight teams from elementary students to the seniors. They were chosen from a contest and encompassed all age groups to show the relationship between the youth and seniors of St. Albert.

“It’s an honour to be able to carry the torch for all the people that are participating in the games,” said Payton McNeil, a Grade 6 student at J.J. Nearing School, who walked the first leg from St. Albert Place to the Chateau Mission with her partner, Iain Leitch. “My grandfather participated in the 55 Plus Winter Games a while ago so it’s really nice to be able to do this.”

McNeil, 11, is happy that seniors have competitions like the games to stay active.

“They get to participate in sports too and it’s not just for the younger people,” said the basketball player.

Leitch, 11, was pretty pumped about the games too.

“It’s neat to know how everybody is getting active in the community to help out,” said the Grade 6 student at Marie Puburan School.

The hockey player was over the moon about his role in the games.

“I’m really proud because I get to represent St. Albert.”

Watch video of the torch relay, opening ceremonies and highlights of the first day of competition at www.stalbertgazette.com.

Jeff Hansen: Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.