Red Deer's Rebecca Smith, 21, shows off her silver medal that she won in the 4x100 metre freestyle relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Rebecca Smith, Ben King named Red Deer Advocate Athletes of the Year

It’s been a remarkable year for Red Deer’s Rebecca Smith.

In July, the 22-year-old swimmer travelled to Tokyo to represent Canada at the Summer Olympics, where she earned a silver medal in the 4×100-metre freestyle relay.

“That moment that I stepped on that pool deck and saw the Olympic pool, I just won’t forget it,” she said.

“I looked around and saw a big stadium, a big poll and the Olympic rings all around me. I just remembered thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve finally made it.’ Those past five years of insane sacrifice and hard work, that moment made it all worth it.”

Smith was recently named the Red Deer Advocate’s Female Athlete of the Year. This award recognizing amateur athletes who have been highly successful in their sport in the past calendar year.

Receiving this recognition “means a lot,” Smith said.

“I think the past couple years have really been challenging, just being away from my family longer than expected and just the challenges of training and trying to maintain my endurance and trying to find ways to be better and improve, while trying to make the Olympic team,” she said.

“It also is just really rewarding, because I feel really supported by Red Deer. There are so many people with the community that helped me during that time, when COVID started. I owe it all to them.”

Smith capped off 2021 by winning four medals at the short-course world championships in December. Swimming for the University of Calgary Dinos in 2021, she won six gold medals at the Canada West Conference Championships in November of 2021. That performance led to her being named the Canada West Women’s Swimmer of the Year.

The Red Deer Advocate Male Athlete of the Year is Red Deer Rebels forward Ben King.

“It’s pretty special with me getting rewarded with that,” said King.

“Last year, and carrying on to this year, I’ve just been trying to play my game and be the best athlete I can for the organization and the city. It’s an honour to get that award. I’m truly blessed.”

The 19-year-old Vernon, B.C., native has been with the Rebels for three seasons. He put up 28 points in 21 games during the 2021-22 season, which was shorted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the six-foot-three centre took his game to another level. So far this season, King has 47 goals and 48 assists in 62 games for his Western Hockey League club. He’s first in the league in goals and second in points, trailing only his linemate Arshdeep Bains.

The Athletes of the Year awards were handed out at the Rebels’ home game against the Swift Current Broncos at the Peavey Mart Centrium Saturday night. Smith was unable to attend.

The awards were not handed out for the 2020 competitive season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sprinter Jeremiah Lauzon and Kalena Soehn were awarded the honour for the 2019 season.

Other nominees for this year’s Male Athlete of the Year were WHL player Nate Danielson, golfer Carter Graf and beach volleyball duo Josh Gagnon and Colby Nemeth. Other nominees for Female Athlete of the Year were golfer Eileen Park and Red Deer Polytechnic Queens volleyball player Kaylee Domoney.

Those nominated for the award had to be a local athlete, from Red Deer and region, or representing a Red Deer team and must have one or multiple significant accomplishments of local, national or international acclaim.

There are no age restrictions and accomplishments can be individual or as a representative of a team.

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