This year’s Royal Canadian Legion National Youth Athletic Championships, held Aug. 5-11 once again in Sherbrooke, Que., was a veritable blizzard of record-smashing and otherwise incredible performances with athletes from all over Canada trying to outdo each other to become national champions.
After two days of training and practice, the event itself began with an opening ceremony on a cool Friday evening at the Sherbrooke stadium. While the crowd of several hundred youth sat casually on the track, Dominion Command First Vice Pat Varga briefly conducted the opening ceremony and somberly read the Act of Remembrance.
This event, held in close co-operation with Athletics Canada, marked only the second year that athletes from outside the Legion system were permitted to participate. And this year, not surprisingly, there were many, many athletes competing from private track and field clubs all over Canada such as the Ottawa Lions and the Phoenix Athletic Association from the Toronto area.
The inclusion of what are called the ‘open’ youth athletes to the event has not only brought increased revenues, but has raised the profile of the nationally sanctioned meet even further. An estimated 80 per cent of Canada’s national track and field team has participated in the Legion contest.
Saturday morning saw the beginning of competition itself. One of the first records to fall occurred when Ontario’s Sarah Moss set a new Legion record in the girls 15-and-under discus with a throw of 39.01 metres, besting the old record by over a metre. Moss then went on a short time later to break the Legion record in the shot put as well, with a throw of 13.72 metres. It is perhaps no surprise, given these two record-smashing performances, that Moss would later be selected as the standout female athlete of the event.
Next up for the record smashers was Katie Reid of British Columbia, who set a new Legion record in the girls 17-and-under 400-metre race with a time of 54.90 and, interestingly, second place Carly Paracholski of Manitoba also broke the record with a time of 55.19.
But in what was, without a doubt, the most compelling performance of the day there were no records broken at all, but there was one spectacular recovery. It was the girls 17-and-under steeplechase, a long-distance running event that pits the competitors against a series of obstacles to jump, including one water hazard. British Columbia’s Alycia Butterworth had been to the Legion event last year and, while she ran a strong race, she did not win in the end. This year would be different, but it would be a battle.
On her second trip through the water hazard, Butterworth, 16, made a small miscalculation and ended up going face-first into the water, submerging herself entirely.
By the time she’d hauled herself out of the water, she been passed by several girls. Without hesitation, where others no doubt would have given up, she hit the gas and came from behind to win the race, setting a new personal best in the process.
When she got out of the water and started running again, Butterworth could clearly be seen to be yelling something at herself. And what was it? She said: “Again? Really?”
Butterworth had fallen before on the Sherbrooke track, in practice for this year’s event. “As soon as I hit the water I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m falling again.’” But then Butterworth jokes that she looked at the bright side. “Sweet, I’m cooled down, this will help me,” she remembers thinking.
The other thing she was thinking was that people up in the stands were going to be laughing at her for falling. “I just thought, ‘I really have to get up and try.’ I just focused more than I ever have before, because now I really need to fight back and prove that I can run to everybody watching now who might be laughing at me.”
Butterworth proved she could run. She ended up breaking her own personal best by about four seconds in a performance that would have to be called spectacular.
As if this victory weren’t enough, a short time later she went on to win the gold in the girls 4×400-metre relay with her B.C./Yukon teammates Haleigh Lloyd, Devan Wiebe and Katie Reid.
Late on Saturday afternoon the Alberta girls 15-and-under team in the medley relay set a new Legion record. The old record was 4:06.40 and the team of Sage Watson, Jazmine Grannum, Shamelle Pless and Jenna Westaway managed to run the medium-distance stage race in 4:06.26.
There was one final amazing performance of the day by Aaron Brown of the Phoenix Athletic Club. Brown broke the Legion record in the boys 17-and-under 100-metre race, running 10.49, but his time did not officially qualify as record breaking since he is an ‘open’ class athlete. Brown also went on to win the 17-and-under 200-metre race as well.
There was no shortage of amazing feats on Sunday, either.
In addition to the myriad Legion records broken on the day, there was the story of a young man from Saskatchewan. Tyler Young, 14, managed to win the gold medal in the boys 15-and-under 300-metre hurdles. Now, he didn’t break a world or even Legion record with his time of 40.12, but what he did break was the Saskatchewan record. And this was a very important record to Young and his coach Jason Reindle, because it was the record Reindle himself had set in his youth.
“He always said he was going to train me to beat his record,” said Young of his coach. “In practice I was close to it, but hadn’t broken it. He was bugging me, telling me I had to break it.”
In the true spirit of this event, Young did somehow rise to his coach’s challenge, not only breaking his record, but running a personal best in the process.
With the competitive event over, all that remained was the closing ceremony, dance and a day off when the athletes toured local attractions.
At the closing ceremony, held in the rustic confines of the Sherbrooke Armouries, Varga was on hand to introduce the night’s keynote speaker, Master Corporal Jody Mitic, a Canadian Forces sniper who lost both his legs after a blast in Afghanistan in 2006.
“Master Corporal Mitic could have given up,” said Varga. “But he didn’t. That’s commitment.”
Mitic went on to give a rousing speech to the crowd of very well-dressed young athletes, telling them of his injury and his road to recovery, including the rather amazing fact that he is training to run a half-marathon this fall and is planning to run a full-length marathon next year.
After his speech, Mitic was briefly surrounded by a group of young athletes eager to hear more about his story and even brashly request to examine his prostheses, to which he graciously obliged.
As one final piece of business, the event’s two athletes of the year were presented their awards at the closing ceremony. Sarah Moss won for her performance in the discus and shot put and Ontario’s Steven Ajayi won for his gold medal in the boys 15-and-under 100- and 200-metre races.
The next Legion track and field championships are scheduled to take place in Ottawa in August 2010.