Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year awards are pretty straightforward.

Mainly it’s what is accomplished on the field of play, coupled with academics of course.

But this year was anything but normal.

The awards were presented to the top male and female athletes looking at what they accomplished athletically two years ago but mainly looking at their leadership qualities, what they did in the classroom and as volunteers.

Both hockey Queens Camryn Wallan and hockey Kings Tyler Podgorenko excelled in the classroom plus spent their free time volunteering.

The pair were honoured with the Athlete of the Year awards for their accomplishments and shared the spotlight with Al Ferchuk Leadership Award recipient Amy Szymanek of the basketball Queens.

All three were members of the Student-Athletes Advisory Council with Podgorenko and Szymanek co-chairs.

“I didn’t think there would be awards as they’re based mainly on your athletic endeavours,” said Tyler “It’s a real honor to be recognized and be put alongside so many outstanding people from the past.”

Wallan and Szymanek agreed.

“It was a surprise for sure … a nice one,” said Camryn.

“I knew my name was put forward for the award, but there’s so many other deserving individuals I was surprised for sure,” said Szymanek. “I don’t do this for the awards. I do it to help in any way I can. There are a lot of people who can use some help. I have it pretty good.”

Tyler is a first-year member of the council, which consists of two athletes from each team.

“At the first meeting Amy and I were nominated as co-chairs,” explained Podgorenko, who has one year remaining with the Kings.

Podgorenko, along with Wallan and Szymanek, said they had more time to concentrate on volunteering thanks to the pandemic.

“With no sports we were able to do more,” Tyer said.

“It was a bit different this year because of Covid for sure,” Amy said. “We were able to focus on our goals more than we would if we’re playing.”

Amy has always believed in volunteering ever since high school when she was coaching younger teams. She still coaches with the Red Deer club when she can.

This year, with no athletics, she volunteered with the Red Deer Food Bank, which led her to leading the council’s food drive.

“We had a number of projects so we split up in groups with a project leader and two others and I was leader for the food drive.

“Our goal was to reach 1,000-pounds, but we surpassed that with 1,200-pounds and 200 dollars,” she said.

Wallan, who was in her second year on the council, was also on the committee for the food drive.

“It was nice to see the response,” she said, adding that this year because of Covid the council was able to accomplish even more.

“We had that much more time because we weren’t playing,” she said.

The other main projects were the blood drive and RBC’s make some noise project for mental health.

“The blood drive was cool in that we challenged each team and individuals to donate,” Tyler said. “We set up a week and there was a lot of positive response.”

“We’re looking at what we call snow angels for next year where we go out and shovel snow for the elderly and alumni,” added Podgorenko, who was involved in volunteering while in junior hockey.

“Bonnyville is one of the most involved teams when it comes to working with the community and being with teams like that helped me lot.”

Podgorenko will spend his summer back in Nelson, B.C., and will return in the fall to finish his Electronic Engineering Technology degree. He already has his Instrumentation Engineering Technology diploma.

Tyler looks back at the 2019-20 season with disappointment.

“We were second and felt we had a good chance to win it all when we were shut down,” he said. “But we can’t do anything about that. Hopefully, we get back this fall as we look to have another strong team. Trevor (head coach Keeper) has done another great job of recruiting.”

Wallan is team captain and will be one of the few veterans returning with the Queens.

“We’ll be young but I’m excited. Now it’s a matter of just playing.”

She’s looking forward to playing with her sister Jensyn, who played midget AAA two years ago with Lloydminster and early last season with the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs.

“That’s exciting. Because we’re four years apart in age I didn’t think I’d get to play with her.”

Camryn is working on her education degree and hopes to find a job in central Alberta.

“I took my practicum in Sylvan Lake and I hope to stay around here,” she said.

Amy, who has two years remaining to get her education degree, is equally as excited about next season as the Queens appear to be ready to move up in the standings. As well they’ll host the provincials.

“We’re certainly excited as a team, but a little nervous about getting the season started. We have our fingers crossed.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at

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