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Weekend games more than 30 years in the making

On your mark! Get set! The Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games are almost ready to go, starting tomorrow and running for four days. That's when the city throws its gates wide open for fun, festivities and St.
Games committee Chair Glennis Kennedy
Games committee Chair Glennis Kennedy

On your mark! Get set! The Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games are almost ready to go, starting tomorrow and running for four days. That's when the city throws its gates wide open for fun, festivities and St. Albert's future as a premiere venue for major events.

According to local organizers and those who were on the bid committee, it is going to be the best edition of these games ever.

"We've done everything we can to prepare," said an energetic but admittedly exhausted games manager Stephen Bourdeau. "We're just riding the wave at this point."

The odds are looking pretty good for these games to be a big success. Among the many reasons is the fact the city is already almost two full months into a yearlong celebration of its 150th anniversary. If we already have a massive party going on, it only makes sense to have a few more friends stop by.

Alberta's finest city brings it on

The last time these games were held was 2009 in Lethbridge. Approximately 1,100 athletes and guests participated. Bourdeau won't be tracking spectator attendance in St. Albert but he is expecting a veritable deluge of more than 1,000 athletes, coaches, supporters and fans of 13 different sports and activities, not to mention 200 VIPs from all levels of government and other sports organizations who will also be on hand and catching the action.

In his mind, it's already a success.

"We've got all our volunteers. We've got our funding in place. All of our participants are signed up. It's just a waiting game until everybody arrives and the gun goes off."

The likelihood of a win is even greater when you take into account St. Albert's respectable history of playing host to neighbours from across the province. This reputation started more than 30 years ago when this was Alberta's newest city and the site of the 1979 Alberta Summer Games. We picked up the ball again 15 years later with the Alberta Winter Games in 1994.

It seems like we have played host more and more often lately. There was the World Taekwondo Championships in 2007 and the Canadian National Ringette Championships in 2008, not to mention last year's Alberta Special Olympics Summer Games and the Continental Cup of Curling just last month, a worldwide championship-level sporting event that saw total attendance of almost 20,000.

Bourdeau sees the trend of hosting large events and sport tourism as positive on many levels.

"The economic impact of money into local businesses, as well as the positive exposure of our region, are a win-win for the city. It's really a no-brainer. The city invests a few dollars into an event like this and in return many times that is injected into the economy."

"I personally feel this is a great way to build community spirit through volunteerism and a sense of pride. I hope St. Albert continues to host events of this size in the future."

Helping hands are hard at work

Bourdeau won't have to wait long to find out.

All of the planning and co-ordination for the games requires a vast team of support staff and volunteers — especially volunteers. Among the positions being filled by approximately 800 people, not all of who are from St. Albert, are ambassadors, food servers, torch runners and all of the people who maintain the venues themselves.

There are also volunteer health professionals including physiotherapist Lori Shupak of Leading Edge Physiotherapy in Campbell Park. She said this effort is more than just outreach — it's also good practice for the near future.

"Our clinic likes to really get involved with the community," she said, "The biggest thing that we want to do is we constantly want to be showing the St. Albert community that we're invested in it and that we want to be involved in any form that we can be and with any age group."

She mentioned that her work with the 55-plus games would be invaluable experience in the springtime. That's when Leading Edge is putting on the first edition of the Run Wild Leading Edge Marathon, St. Albert's first full-length 42-kilometre (26-mile) race. The city expects to have between 500 and 1,000 long distance runners on our streets come May 15. Even better, the race will also act as a fundraiser for the Zebra Child Protection Centre with a goal of $100,000 in donations.

What it all means

Imagine that you're putting on a party for 1,000 people. You don't just set up the tables the night before.

Planning for the Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games in St. Albert started three years ago when a committee of community-minded people got the ball rolling and took the responsibility upon themselves to dot all the i's and cross all the t's.

Director of volunteers Glynis Thomas, also the executive director of the Community Information & Volunteer Centre (CIVC), explained that leading the charge on an event like this is easy here because there is no shortage of support from the citizens.

"It doesn't happen with one person or a small group of people. This is happening with over 700 volunteers and they're all essential," she began. "They do rally to the cause."

Games committee chair Glennis Kennedy (also the co-ordinator of volunteer centre services at the CIVC) agrees this will be successful because it has the backing of an army of givers.

"It really truly is the sum of many, many, many, many, many parts. There are just so many people playing so many roles putting in so many different parts that it's just going to come together as this one big event. It's going to be a neat thing to see."

Thomas and Kennedy also mentioned they're already looking ahead to the future when St. Albert hosts the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games. Preparations, they said, are well under way.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ecology and Environment Reporter at the Fitzhugh Newspaper since July 2022 under Local Journalism Initiative funding provided by News Media Canada.
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