Editorial: Athletes’ legacy with community

The legacy of our local athletes doesn’t hinge on medals, but how they give back to the community.

It’s been a tough year for a few of Victoria’s high-profile athletes.

After winning the Giro D’Italia and solidifying his place as Canada’s premier cyclist, Ryder Hesjedal crashed out of the Tour de France, and middle-of-the pack outcomes in the Olympic road race and time trial, and no medals.

Last Saturday, 22-year-old Paula Findlay showed true grit and fought through an injury-plagued year to finish the women’s triathlon in last place (with a time of 2:12:09; that’s still a blistering pace. Consider this: the female winner of the Victoria Subaru Olympic-distance triathlon came in at 2:28:07 ).

Findlay’s performance and subsequent apology set off a firestorm of controversy after fellow triathlete Simon Whitfield came to her defence, and criticized Triathlon Canada and Findlay’s coach for giving her poor guidance in recovering from a hip injury.

Then on Tuesday, Whitfield, the pride of Victoria as Canada’s Olympic flag bearer, crashed early in his race, ending his Olympic career in a way he, and the nation, never imagined.

But world-class athletes like Hesjedal, Findlay and Whitfield – not to mention medal winners men’s eight rowing, track cyclist Gillian Carleton and swimmer Ryan Cochrane – will continue to be local heroes, and will continue to exemplify the Olympic spirit.

The legacy of our local athletes doesn’t hinge on medals, but how they give back to the community. Whitfield has raised thousands for KidSport Victoria and mentors up-and-coming competitive triathletes. Hesjedal’s success spurred the Tour de Victoria and the Ryder’s Cycling Society of Canada to promote cycling locally and across the country.

Athletes such as Findlay and Carleton and rowers Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee are mentoring the next generation of young women in their disciplines, and will continue to be superb athletes to be reckoned with on the world stage.

Victoria is home, or the adopted home, of 32 athletes on this year’s Canadian Olympic team. With institutions like Commonwealth Place, the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence and the national team rowing facility at Elk Lake, these athletes will continue to train and inspire youth to stay fit and healthy, to push their limits and strive to be the best in the world.

We can be proud of what our Olympians have achieved in London, but the Games come and go. The impact of local athletes will be felt in the Greater Victoria community for years to come.