Rode: Tough choices ahead for Red Deer high school athlete

Brandon O’Connell will have a tough decision to make in the not to distant future.

The 16-year-old Grade 10 Hunting Hills student is big into basketball and speed skating in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. It’s the winter where he will likely have to decide what sport he will concentrate on.

“At some point I will have to decide,” he said. “I like basketball the best, but I will have to see how that continues to develop. If I concentrate on basketball I probably won’t have the time to dedicate to skating.”

However, the six-foot-two O’Connell will continue to do both as long as he can.

O’Connell got involved in speed skating in Grade 3, joining the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club. He got into basketball in Grade 7 while at Eastview Middle School.

Mountain biking came a bit later.

“A family friend was in speed skating and I wasn’t doing anything so I tried it and really enjoyed it,” he said.

Speed skating has been good for him, having competed in the 2014 and ‘16 Alberta Winter Games as well as the 2013 Canadian short track championships and 2016 and ‘17 Canadian age class long track finals.

“I finished in the middle of the pack at the Winter Games, but it was a great experience,” he said. “It was a different experience where you’re away from the team and surrounded by so many great athletes.

“And the Canadian championships were exciting to be competing against so many kids across Canada.”

O’Connell finished in the top 10 in both the 500 and 3,000-metre finals at the long track nationals.

“I like long track more so than the short track,” he said. “I find at my height it’s tougher. I enjoy the long track with longer corners and longer straights.”

If he does stay involved with the sport he would like nothing better than to compete in the Olympics.

“That would be amazing,” he said.

He would have liked to compete at the 2019 Canadian Winter Games in Red Deer.

“I’ll be to old plus they take just the top two in each age class,” he explained. “But I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping to volunteer for the skating in some capacity.”

As for basketball, O’Connell, who played forward and wing for the Hunting Hills JV team this season, hopes to make the senior varsity team next year.

“That’s my goal, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said.

He may also look to play club this spring, but he knows he will be busy in the summer with mountain biking.

“I just started last summer,” he said. “I have a busy winter, but nothing in the summer and a friend 0f mine and his dad were involved and I looked at it and it seemed like fun.”

O’Connell likes the fact he’s on his own on the bike.

“It’s similar to speed skating in that you’re by yourself. I like that, yet I like basketball where you’re with a team and you’re depending on each other.”

He did have some early success in mountain biking, competing in the 2016 Alberta Summer Games in Leduc.

“I was just new at it, so I didn’t have a lot of success, but it’s fun and it helps me train for the winter sports.”

O’Connell, who is an honour student, has three years before he decides what to do after graduation.

At present he plans on becoming an engineer and continue on in as many sports as he can, for as long as he can.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at drode@bprda.wpengine.com. His work can also be seen at Danny’s blog at rdcathletics.ca

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