Smith, Fleury named Advocate athletes of the year

In the span of one month last summer, swimmer Rebecca Smith collected 13 medals on both the national and international level.

From July 27 to Aug. 27, the 17-year-old from Red Deer competed in the Canadian Age Group Championships, Canadian senior nationals and the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

The most impressive victory for the swimming teen, who now lives in Toronto training with internationally renowned swim coach Ben Titley, was five silver medals in Hawaii at the Junior Pan Pacific event.

“It was all so close. You just had to swim hard into the wall and see what happens,” Smith said.

“My 200 (metre) freestyle, on the first day of the meet (stands out). Everyone was within one second of each other. I was in lane seven. I was going in in seventh place, just wanted that top spot and I came out second.”

Before that she won five golds at the Canadian Age Group Championships, and three more medals at the Canadian Swimming Championships.

That success, along with being named Swim Alberta female swimmer of the year for the second straight year in 2016, earned Smith our nomination as 2016 Red Deer Advocate’s Red Deer female athlete of the year. She is joined by Red Deer Rebels standout defenceman Haydn Fleury, the 2016 Red Deer Advocate’s Red Deer male athlete of the year.

Smith moved to Toronto this year and before that had swam out of Calgary, where her family made the hour and a half trek from Red Deer. Even though she’s represented Canada, Smith said growing up in Red Deer and representing the Catalina was an honour and helped her make some ever-lasting friendships.

“At the start it was probably just that I was with my friends everyday. Just fun to swim. Then as I got older, it was the racing because it’s individual, just that you can perform based on what you do in practice,” Smith said.

“Catalina was great. Just the friends, even when I had to leave for Toronto it was sad, but I knew that if I wanted to push myself that would be the best choice.”

When the Memorial Cup was awarded to Red Deer in 2014, Fleury always envisioned he’d be part of the process. He knew the city was hockey crazy and to represent the team he was selected by in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, was a dream come true.

Fleury had a dream beyond just playing in the major junior national championship too, he wanted to win obviously and be an all-star to boot.

”That was one of my goals going in. I wanted to have a good last tournament in front of the Rebels’ fans and really just leave a good mark,” he said.

The Carlyle, Sask. native was named an all-star at the 2016 Memorial Cup, with five points in four games, good for second among defenceman at the tournament.

Now playing with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, the 20-year-old remembers and draws on the experience everyday.

“I think you always learn more about yourself as a player in the high-pressure games and the high-pressure situations,” he said. “I thought I had a solid tournament. It really helped me make the jump to the next level.”

The other honour bestowed upon the Carolina Hurricanes 2014 first round pick was an invitation and selection to the 2016 Canadian World Junior squad that played in Finland. Although Canada finished a disappointing sixth in that tournament, Fleury added it was another hockey bucket list item he’s happy he got the opportunity to play in.

“You learn — you get to play against all the countries top players and it was a really good experience to learn and just see what guys do,” he said.

“I think any time you play against the top players in the world you can compare yourself and learn from them.”

Other nominees included Chandler McDowell who finished second at the Alberta’s Junior Boys Championship and closed in eighth at the Men’s Amateur. Luke Brisbane, the 2015 nominee won another national title with RDC Kings men’s volleyball team was also considered. Emily Swier of the RDC Queens Hockey team was considered on the female side, as well as Sydney Daines and Kelsey Lalor.

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