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Airdrie athletes shine at Alberta Winter Games

Goals were scored, points were earned and medals were won – the 2020 Alberta Winter Games was a resounding success.

From Feb. 14 to 17, thousands of athletes, coaches, family members and sports fans from across the province gathered in Airdrie for a celebration of youth sporting excellence.

“The skill, resolve and love of sport displayed by these young athletes at the 2020 Alberta Winter Games was inspiring,” said Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer, in a statement. “My sincere congratulations to all the competitors; may your future in sport continue to shine.”

After three days of competition, Zone 3 (Calgary) claimed top spot in the medal standings, amassing 36 gold, 33 silver and 30 bronze medals. Zone 2 (Big Country), which included most of the 30-plus local competitors, followed in second, collecting 25 gold, 25 silver and 21 bronze medals.

Athletes from Airdrie did the city proud, as several made the podium in their respective sports. In total, Airdronians contributed to 15 medals, including four gold, seven silver and eight bronzes. 

Local gold-medal winners included judo athlete DJ Roberts, who took home first place in the 55-60 kilogram weight class, and archer Haley Priest, who finished with the gold medal in the female compound competition for female athletes aged 15 to 17.

Competing at Windsong Heights School, fencer Gresa Jasari took top spot in the women’s epee, along with fourth in the mixed team event. Over at the Shane Homes YMCA at Rocky Ridge in northwest Calgary – one of four Games’ venues located outside of Airdrie – Jewely Sunay coached Zone 2 swimmers to first place in the duet and team artistic (synchronized) swimming events.

Local silver medallists included Farah Walker, who played goaltender for the Zone 3 female hockey team, as well as archers Dawson Molitor and Nick Fogg, and fencer Nascharene Turiano.

On the hardwood, the Zone 2 boys’ and girls’ futsal teams also earned silver medals. Four Airdrie soccer players were on the teams, including Roman Badzgon, Robson Massey and Nolan Cleverley on the boys’ squad and Emilia McDermid on the girls’ squad.

"We worked together, circulated the ball around during our games and played well together,” said Massey, who attends École francophone d’Airdrie.

Both teams lost to Zone 3 in the gold-medal games, in front of packed bleachers at Bert Church High School.

"It was really cool, but also pretty stressful, with hundreds of people coming out to watch us,” Massey said.

The sport that included the most Airdrie representation was ringette; the Zone 2 team featured 10 local athletes, and skated to a third-place showing in the eight-team competition.

“We wanted to get a medal at this Winter Games, because it was at home and we were the home team – we didn’t want to let down family or friends,” said Abygale Reeve, a Grade 9 student at Bert Church High School.

After missing out on a spot in the final by losing to Zone 3, the host team overcame Zone 1 (southern Alberta) 5-2 on Family Day to earn the last spot on the podium.

“The atmosphere was much better, because there was so much cheering,” Reeve said. “It was very loud in the arena. It made us skate a little bit faster and check a little harder.”

Curling was yet another sport in which the home city was well-represented. Team Northwood, which included Airdronians Hannah Northwood, Jada Walls and Hudsyn Palyszniuk, along with Calgarian Brynne Masson, ended the weekend in sixth place.

Though the team – one of three female rinks representing Zone 2 – ended the weekend a few spots short of the podium, Northwood said the four curlers were proud of their performances. The team won two of its five draws throughout the weekend.

“In some of our earlier bonspiels, we would lose concentration and get a bit nervous,” said Northwood, a Grade 9 student at George McDougall High School. “But this weekend, we didn’t get nervous, and the first day, we played super well – way better than we were expecting.”

Northwood said the best part of competing at the Alberta Winter Games on home soil was the overall excitement and atmosphere of such a big event, along with meeting fellow high-level athletes from across the province.

“It was really fun,” she said. “We shared a classroom with [some other teams] and we got close with them and talked a lot. It was nice meeting the other athletes and just playing in general.”

In artistic gymnastics, Katey Lowther competed to a sixth-place overall finish in the Junior Olympic 7 competition, with an overall score of 36.45 points. The highlight of Lowther’s weekend was her performances in vault and floor, in which she finished first and second, respectively.

"My vault and my floor are definitely my strong suits,” said the Grade-8 student at CW Perry School.

"I was very proud of myself and accomplished all my goals. I put my mind to what I wanted to see happen for myself, and I did it."

Fifteen venues were abuzz with competition all weekend, including Genesis Place Recreation Centre, Ron Ebbesen Arena, Plainsmen Arena and the Airdrie Curling Club. Seven local schools also hosted events, while others acted as overnight lodging for the nearly 1,900 athletes in attendance.

Roughly 1,000 volunteers and technical officials were needed to ensure the Games ran smoothly.

“The success of these games also rests with the host city, games organizers and volunteers,” Aheer’s statement read. “Through their warmth and hospitality, they certainly set the bar high for these games. We look forward to seeing you all at the 2020 Alberta Summer Games in Lethbridge.”

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19