Golden performances at Olympics inspiring local youth

Erica Watts of Red Deer was hanging on every motion captured on her TV screen Thursday morning as Canada’s women’s curling team triumphed over Sweden for the Olympic gold medal with a score of 6-3.

Erica Watts of Red Deer was hanging on every motion captured on her TV screen Thursday morning as Canada’s women’s curling team triumphed over Sweden for the Olympic gold medal with a score of 6-3.

“It was definitely pretty cool to watch. We were excited,” said Watts, 13, on Friday. She has been curling for the past five years and now competes on Team Vincent. They took home the champion title in November at the Lacombe Juvenile Bantam Bonspiel.

Watching skip Jennifer Jones’ steal two in the ninth end was inspiring for Watts and her sister Payton, 15, who also curls, said mom Lori.

“We were on the edge of our seats,” said Lori, a once avid curler herself and who now coaches the Big Rocks (age 11 and up) at the Red Deer Curling Centre. “Jones’ team was here in 2012 for the Scotties and a lot of our junior curlers saw them and now they got to watch the team again at the Olympics. How much more motivating can that be? It’s amazing to see.”

For Watts, Jones’ smooth last throw to take the game galvanized her future aspirations.

“I want to be like her, just as competitive and go to the Olympics too,” she said.

Lyn Radford, who curls three times a week in Red Deer’s women’s league and is the current chair of Red Deer’s 2019 Canada Winter Games bid committee, was also glued to her TV for the golden curling victory, a title Canadian women haven’t won since Sandra Schmirler’s rock throwing during the 1998 Nagano Games.

“I always try to push female athletics; its part of what makes a healthy community,” Radford said. “The win is just going to strengthen the value in the curling rink we built last year where the community and city and curling centre came together. And that’s thrilling to me.”

Additionally, Radford said the statistics show that once a gold medal is won in a sport, the interest in it back home balloons by 20 to 30 per cent.

“That makes our facility that much more viable and sustainable in the future.”

Jocelyn Peterson of Red Deer, skip for the 2012 Canadian junior champion team, said she had tears in her eyes by the end of Team Jones’ game.

“It lights a fire, made me want to go to the gym, get out and practise more,” Peterson said. “I tweeted right after the game that I was honoured to be a Canadian women’s curler.”

Peterson, 20, said the win will continue to bring a lot of attention to women’s curling, opening more doors for future athletes.

More gold rained down for the proud red and white on Thursday after the Canadian women’s hockey game made a riveting comeback to sweep the gold out from under the Americans 3-2 in overtime.

“It’s such a sense of pride and shows that no matter what the score is, you never give up,” said Lee Deary, who co-ordinates all the female players for Red Deer Minor Hockey, from Atom up to AAA.

Deary’s own 15-year-old daughter, Shayna, has been playing the sport for years and was hooked throughout the gold medal game, he said.

“I think all the girls were. And the ringette community as well, I bet. It’s not just a win for hockey players,” Deary said.

“The Canadian Olympic program is so visible. It’s more than just about the Olympics, that final culmination. The program does so much hard work along the way to promote female hockey so it’s really about that journey.”

The Canadian Olympic women’s team has been intimately involved with Red Deer, Deary said, playing exhibition games with the association’s Midget AAA teams.

“The women’s team was here twice this season, which is so cool and helps up the game calibre.”

Dallas Gaume, general manager at Red Deer Minor Hockey, said he’s been noticing more and more young girls developing an interest in hockey, especially over the last three years.

However there are about 1,200 boys in minor hockey in Red Deer and still only 130 girls, he said.

“We hope the exposure and the great quality of play from the women’s Olympic game will help grow the number of girls in hockey, with at least two teams at every level,” Gaume said. “That was just one of the most memorable wins I’ve ever seen. The comeback was extraordinary.”

Kaylene Edwards, 17, has been playing hockey for 13 years. She started off playing with her brothers and dad.

“I was so happy when the women won. It took a lot of determination that’s for sure,” said Edwards, team captain for Red Deer’s Midget A Sutter Fund Chiefs.

Edwards said it made her proud to be a young woman in the sport. She doesn’t foresee herself playing forever but said she would like to try her hand at coaching to get more girls involved.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

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