As she prepared to compete in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Stettler native Susan Sloan Kelsey secretly wished that the international sports spectacle was at a foreign venue.
But she quickly dismissed those feelings when she arrived at the Olympics, where winning a medal in the pool was the highlight of her extremely successful swimming career.
“Competing in Montreal was very special. At first I thought ‘it’s too bad we don’t get to travel’, but having the Olympics on home soil was fantastic,” Sloan Kelsey said Friday, prior to being inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame during a dinner and ceremony at the Red Deer Sheraton.
“It was my first international event and we were able to win Canada’s first medal of those Games. It was the first time Canada had hosted the Olympics so it was really special to win on home territory.”
Sloan Kelsey was referring to the bronze medallion won by herself and her 4×100 metre medley relay teammates Debbie Clarke, Wendy Cook-Hogg, Robin Corsiglia and Anne Jardin.
“We touch base by e-mail once in awhile, so I keep in touch with them that way,” she said. “The Canadian team was made up of a great group of kids. Canada had a really strong swimming program in ‘76. Canada won 11 medals at those Olympics and eight of them were in the pool.”
Sloan Kelsey took up swimming at the age of nine and by the age of 15 she was breaking Canadian records.
“Stettler’s swimming pool was built in 1967 and the swim team was formed at that time,” she said. “That’s where I first started. Our first coach in Stettler, Larry Nielsen, was absolutely fantastic. He was a real stroke technician and he gave me the basics to help me succeed throughout my swimming career.”
One of Sloan Kelsey’s swim teammates in Stettler was Barb Clark (Parolin), who also enjoyed international success — winning bronze in the 4×100 free relay at Montreal — and was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame two years ago.
“Barb and I both swam and both medalled in the ‘76 Olympics,” said Sloan Kelsey. “Larry was our coach at that time, although I did train a year before the Olympics with Canadian coach Derek Snelling in Vancouver. Both Larry and Derek were fantastic coaches.
“Larry taught us the basics, the fundamentals of strokes, and that stuck with both Barb and I through our careers.”
Sloan Kelsey, who was runner-up in the 100m butterfly at the 1974 Canadian championship, enrolled at Arizona State University on an athletic scholarship following the Montreal Olympics and excelled at the NCAA level. She was also a member of the bronze-medal winning 4×100 free relay team at the 1978 world championship and competed for Canada in the 1979 Pan American Games.
Sloan Kelsey, who was named to the Canadian team for the 1980 Olympics in Los Angeles but stayed at home when Canada joined a boycott of the Games, graduated from Arizona State in 1982 with a degree in physical education. She then attended law school at the University of British Columbia and is currently a practising attorney in Comox, B.C.
“I’ve lived in Comox with my family for 20 years and it’s always great to get back to Alberta,” she said. “I have fond memories of Red Deer. When I was growing up in Stettler we used to come to the indoor pool in Red Deer to swim on Sunday afternoons. It was a good family outing.”
Also inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame Friday were builders Don Phelps (hockey), Dr. Gary Bowie (multisport), Don Horwood (basketball) and Phyllis Sadoway (ringette), former athletes Keith Morgan (judo) and Carol Huynh (wrestling), the 2000 Canadian synchronized swim team, the Broder’s Chinook basketball teams from 1958-1962 (Pioneer Award) and Bell Memorial Award (media) winner Rod Phillips.