Canada Soccer Hall of Famer Helen Stoumbos looks to inspire during pandemic

The day after losing the gold-medal match at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, curler Cheryl Bernard and her team stopped at a Starbucks.

It was a "pretty tough day for us," she recalled.

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Wearing jeans and baseball hats, the four curlers figured they wouldn't get recognized. Which is how they wanted it after the gut-wrenching loss.

But as they waited for their order, the barista suddenly started belting out "O Canada" as loud as she could. Then the other employees and all the customers joined in, with people coming in off the street to help serenade the curlers.

"They were so proud," Bernard said. "And it was in that moment that I realized we should be too. And that we hadn't lost a gold. We had won a silver and we'd made our country very proud.

"I think the lesson in that for me is you never really understand the impact your actions can have. And that changed our path for ever."

To this day, Bernard wishes she could have the opportunity to thank the barista, calling it a "defining moment" for her team.

Bernard's powerful memory is part of the My Canadian Moment series, the brainchild of Canada Soccer Hall of Famer Helen Stoumbos.

The series offers short videos detailing favourite Canadian sports moments, drawing on the memories of former athletes like Charmaine Hooper, Cassie Campbell and Vicki Keith, musicians Sam Roberts, Tom Cochrane and Johnny Reid, among others, as well as media, business and other personalities.

The program was slated for the month of June but has been so successful it is being extended through the rest of the summer.

Stoumbos said the initial idea was a series called "Elevate Me" — sharing inspirational stories for some positive news during the COVID-19 lockdown.

"So we started taking to athletes and we kept hearing these stories come out. We're like 'Nobody knows these stories,'" Stoumbos said.

They switched to Canadian sports memories and partnered with Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

"I think it's good timing," Stoumbos said. "They're good stories. I think they unite people. I think everybody wants to hear inspirational stories right now. I know I do."

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier share different memories arising from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, with an emotional Sale recalling a golden moment back home. Swimmer Mark Tewksbury recalls how the late Victor Davis inspired their relay team to reach the podium at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

The videos, shared on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are short and simple with no frills — usually just someone talking to the camera from their living room. But the stories are often powerful and emotional.

Stoumbos believes such memories connect Canadians.

"For me, there's nothing like sport. I hear these sports stories come in and I'm like 'I remember exactly where I was when that happened.'"

Stoumbos made her own memories as an athlete, winning 35 caps for Canada between 1993 and '98 — an era when the Canadian women did not see action as often as they do today. She played in 22 consecutive matches for Canada from 1993 to '95 and, at the 1995 World Cup in Sweden, scored Canada’s first-ever goal at the tournament.

Stoumbos transitioned from athlete to entrepreneur, working in TV and broadcasting — often partnering with sporting governing bodies. She currently owns a media company called Quantum Media House that creates and markets content.

One of her labours of love is the Guelph Games, an international masters multi-sport festival that was to have debuted June 25–28 until COVID-19 ground things to a halt. Stoumbos is president and CEO of the games, which have been pushed back to next year.

The games are set to feature seven sports: track/trail racing, basketball, beach volleyball, pickleball, slow-pitch, soccer and ultimate (Frisbee).

"Anyone can come. As long as you're over 30," said Stoumbos.

For the 49-year-old Guelph native, the games are more than a four-day event. They are part of a bigger storyline — staying healthy for life, physically and mentally.

They had planned for 1,300 athletes this year but now expect 5,000 for next year — with the competition opening July 1, 2021.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2020.


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