While their careers ranged across a wide array of disciplines and spanned many different decades, the people all on stage at the Valhalla Inn on Saturday had one thing in common.
Athletes Andrea Cole, Tony Hrkac, and Katie Weatherson, builders Brian Mallon and Brian McLean, and the 1991 Cameron crew lightning class sailing team joined officially joined the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame on an evening that featured a dinner, video presentations, and speeches by all those honoured..
Hall of Fame executive director Diane Imrie said the diversity of the class, which includes a swimmer and sailing crew, is a testament to the nature of the complete sports scene in the region.
“It indicates we’re not just a hockey town, as fantastic as we are in that sport,” Imrie said. “Our coaches have developed great athletes, our builders are diverse in terms of the sports they bring into the community and they dedicate themselves to. There’s no barriers to anything. You can travel around and compete in all different things.”
This year’s class is marked by some crowning first time achievements for northwestern Ontario.
Weatherston set a firsts for the region in 2006 as she became the first female from Thunder Bay to taste Olympic hockey gold. In Turin, she scored the game-winning goal in Canada’s semifinals victory over Finland.
She also enjoyed an illustrious high school sports career, being named the St. Patrick athlete of the year all four years of high school and excelling in track and field, soccer, and tennis.
While concussion issues closed her career prematurely, she has found a new outlet to channel her drive as she works to inspire the next generation.
“My two passions in life are sports and working with children. It was an easy transition but a hard one as well, because I feel like I hadn’t reached my full potential. My career ended at a young age, only 25, so it was tough but it was a great career,” Weatherston described.
“Once you win a gold medal a lot of doors open up, and fortunately enough I was able to go across Canada on speaking tours and seeing the kids eyes light up every time I pull out the gold medal is something I cherish. That gold medal has been touched by a lot of people and there have been a lot of great stories that have come from it.”
Like Weatherston, Cole was also a trailblazer as she became the first female athlete from the region to win Paralympic gold. In 2000 she was a member of the world-record setting 4x100m freestyle relay swimming team in Sydney.
Her career spanned three Paralympic Games, and she amassed four Paralympic medals as well as six Para Pan-American Games medals and four summer national medals.
In the beginning, swimming was a means to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion for Cole, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy early in her life.
These are still the guiding principles she brings with her and stresses to young athletes know she coaches with the Special Olympics, as well as through her teaching career.
“Swimming changed my life. It made me believe that I really had a purpose and that I could set some goals. When I originally started off with swimming I just wanted to be healthy and then I discovered I could be a part of something really incredible,” Cole explained.
“When I started coaching and teaching swimming it was important for me to teach that yes swimming is an individual sport, but if you’re part of a team and can help each other then it helps everyone feel like they’re more included and that’s very important to me.”
The trio of Jim and Janice Cameron and Charlie Spence became Canadian lightning class champions in 1991 by pulling off the upset in Toronto. The followed that up by heading to Rhode Island for the North American championships and placed sixth, the best result for a Canadian crew at the time.
They are the first sailing team to join the hallowed hall.
Hrkac was unable to attend and was represented by members of his family. He enjoyed a lengthy NHL career that was highlighted by a Stanley Cup title in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.
He is also the first, and to date only northwestern Ontario product to win the Hobey Baker Award as top collegiate hockey player for his 1986-87 campaign with the University of North Dakota.
Mallon has long been a fixture in the local golf and curling scenes, serving as a major organizer of the annual Strathcona Invitational as well as playing an instrumental role in various events at the Port Arthur Curling Club.
McLean in large part spearheaded organized bowling in the city being involved with various organizations and starting youth programs. He was also inducted into the Canadian 10-Pin Federation Hall of Fame in 2007.
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