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Class of 2017 inducted into Victoria Sports Hall of Fame

Running great Diane Cummins, archer Wanda Allan Parsons and wheelchair racer and paracyclist Karen March rolled or marched into Summer Olympic or Paralympic ceremonies from Montreal in 1976 to Athens in 2004.
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Rafael Melendez-Duke, left, Wanda Allan Parsons, Alex Nelson, Micheal O'Connor, Diane Cummins, Maurice Tarrant, Frank Grealy, and Karen March, front, represent the Class of 2017 inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Saturday at the Westin Bear Mountain.

Running great Diane Cummins, archer Wanda Allan Parsons and wheelchair racer and paracyclist Karen March rolled or marched into Summer Olympic or Paralympic ceremonies from Montreal in 1976 to Athens in 2004. On Saturday night, they paraded into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame with the Class of 2017 during the induction ceremonies in the Westin Bear Mountain ballroom.

“There has been a huge change in mindset with athletes getting treated like athletes,” said March, of the Paralympic movement.

“I feel our generation of Paralympians helped lay the path for that,” added March, who represented Canada at the 2004 Athens Paralympics in wheelchair racing, and was second in the 2011 paracycling World Cup.

Also inducted in the athletes’ category was the prolific masters runner Maurice Tarrant, who set 70 Canadian and eight world records in age-group categories.

“This is an overwhelming honour,” said Tarrant.

“We all took different journeys to get here tonight, but in the end, it is sport that unites us all.”

Inducted into the builders’ category were Alex Nelson for his lifetime of work in building up First Nations sport and Michael O’Connor, simply known as “Benj” in the sporting community, for his tireless involvement with Island and national rugby, the 1994 Commonwealth Games and in helping establish the Victoria Sports Hall that he now enters.

Nelson remembers those moments on the playing field as cherished respites from the bleakness of Residential School: “Sport meant freedom to me. It always stayed with me that there’s more to these games than just the game. Sports have value. I applied that lesson later in life when I asked myself what is my purpose here.”

Also enshrined in the builders’ category was legendary Island track and field official Rafael-Melendez Duke, also a world-class sprinter in his own right as an athlete.

The 1967 Kennedy Cup USA-Mexico-Canada soccer champion Victoria O’Keefes, featuring Canada-capped national-team players Dave Stothard and Ike MacKay, were enshrined in the team category.

The late Victoria Times sportswriter Denny Boyd, who went onto become the renowned around-town columnist for the Vancouver Sun, was inducted in the media category.

Wanda Allan Parsons represented Canada in archery at the 1976 Montreal and 1984 L.A. Olympics. Parsons’ Olympic journey began when her brother Glenn found an old wooden bow in a ditch, prompting the siblings to buy some wooden arrows from Woolco.

“So, from the ditch to the Olympics,” said Parsons.

The wonderful runner Cummins, semifinalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, held the 14-year national record for the women’s 800 metres of 1:58.39 from 2001 until Melissa Bishop finally eclipsed it in 2015. Such a lithe and driven strider, Cummins is one of only three Canadian females ever to run under two minutes in the 800 metres. The native of South Africa, who settled in Victoria, ran to a silver medal and two bronzes in the Commonwealth Games and gold in the Pan Am Games. Cummins twice made the final at the world track and field championships. Her fifth place was the best performance by an athlete from the host country in any event at the 2001 worlds in Edmonton and she was sixth at the worlds in Paris in 2003.

The Victoria Sports Hall was established in 1991. Plaques honouring the Class of 2017 will join those of the 214 previous inductees — from the Patricks, Chapmans and Pedens to Silken Laumann and Simon Whitfield — that hang on the concourse walls of Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com