Where the stars got their start: B.C. Summer Games open in Cowichan Valley

The multi-sport Games dream starts here.

It did for Olympians from the Island such as Jamie Benn, Ryder Hesjedal, Michael Saunders, Fred Winters, Riley McCormick, Gillian Carleton, Martin Reader, Brent McMahon, Michael Mason, Jamie Broder and Kirsten Sweetland, among many others.

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As it did also, in either the B.C. Summer or Winter Games, for Carey Price, Brent Seabrook, Dylan Armstrong, Carol Huynh, Maelle Ricker and Brett Lawrie.

The next generation — 2,385 athletes supplemented by 452 coaches and 264 team officials in 18 sports — pours into the Cowichan Valley for the 2018 B.C. Summer Games opening ceremonies Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Laketown Ranch. There is no admission charge for the audience.

Among the performers will be Shane Koyczan, who delivered that monumentally stirring spoken-word poem about Canada during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

This is the 40th anniversary of the B.C. Summer Games, first held in Penticton in 1978. These are the gateway multi-sport Games in a pathway that leads to the Canada Games and international Games such as the Commonwealth, Pan Am and Olympics.

Considering the B.C. Games’ starry alumni list, it never hurts to dream big. This might be as good as it gets for the majority of the participants, but for the few to break through, it is the first step along a path.

“My dream is to play for Canada in the 2026 World Cup,” said soccer player Mattheus Achadinha of Victoria, who is representing the host Island team (known as Zone 6) in the Games, which run to Sunday in the Cowichan Valley.

“Hopefully, I can get a university scholarship to play soccer or get scouted by a pro team. I know you have to be focused, train hard and be disciplined to achieve those goals.”

All three Achadinha siblings in the family are named after famous soccer players (Mattheus for former World Cup great Lothar Matthaus of Germany).

Mattheus Achadinha is from the Gorge-Lakehill Island Performance League and plays central midfield, which is considered the quarterback position of soccer.

“It involves both defence and offence, and you control a lot of the game from that position,” said Achadinha, a former rep hockey player, who has played in the massive Gothia Cup soccer tournament in Sweden.

“You need to be technically strong and vocal because you are on the ball a lot and distribute it.”

Going into Grade 10 at Reynolds, Achadinha also plays volleyball and competes in track and field for the Roadrunners.

Rower Claire Hallett, another Island Zone 6 athlete, is the daughter of three-time Olympic rower Todd Hallett and has grown up amid tales of international sport.

“A lot of our family friends are Olympic rowers, so I have been around it a lot,” said the 15-year-old former competitive swimmer, who is heading into Grade 10 at Mount Douglas Secondary.

“My goal is to become an Olympian like my dad [Todd Hallett competed in double sculls at the 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Summer Games], but I know how much hard work and how many steps and levels up that will take.”

Sierra Gillis, who helps lead Zone 6 into the B.C. Games rugby sevens competition, lists 2016 Canadian team Rio Olympics bronze-medallist Charity Williams as her inspiration and role model.

“I really look up to her speed and strength,” said Gillis, also a softball standout.

Gillis and her Belmont Bulldogs defeated Shawnigan Lake School in the B.C. high school girls’ rugby sevens final in the spring. Now, the Zone 6 team at the B.C. Games is primarily made up of players from Belmont and Shawnigan Lake.

“Despite our high school rivalry, we get along well, and this is definitely a strong Island team going to the Games,” said Gillis.

There were 35 B.C. Games alumni on the Canadian team at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, including Islanders such as Broder in beach volleyball, Sweetland in triathlon and bronze-medallist swimmer Hilary Caldwell.

The budget for a B.C. Games is $800,000, of which the B.C. Games Society, a Victoria-based Crown Corporation, contributes $625,000. Each host community must put in $45,000 with the rest to be raised through corporate sponsorships.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has contributed $45,000 in cash and $50,000 in in-kind services. School District 79 has provided schools to be used as athlete dorms and school buses for transport. Cowichan Valley businesses have provided thousands of dollars in in-kind services and materials.

More than 2,300 volunteers throughout the valley, under-16 directors and 125 volunteer chairpersons, are involved in the planning and staging of the Games.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.comc

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