Games Time

The kids looked absolutely exhausted.

They sat on the floor of the field house at MacDonald Island Park for the closing ceremonies, and it was clear that they were both tired and delighted. What was the most thrilling to me was seeing kids from different zones – meaning different areas of our province – sitting together, having connected or reconnected at the 2018 Wood Buffalo Alberta Winter Games.

The closing ceremonies of the games were the culmination not only of several days of athletic competition but of months and years of work on the part of the organizing committee. It was my genuine pleasure to play a very small role as the media and publicity chair for the event. It was a very busy weekend, not only for the athletes, the organizers and the volunteers, but also for the families who descended on our region to watch their children compete.

During the competition (or at least the two days that I was able to be on site having been felled by the flu on the first day of the games), I had the opportunity to speak with people from across the province who were visiting our region for the first time.

The most common things I heard were: “Your facilities are amazing”, “This isn’t what I heard about Fort McMurray”, and finally “it’s really great here”.

It was nice to hear these affirmations from visitors to our region; after all we know how wonderful Wood Buffalo is but the external world has not always been kind to us. As the games volunteer working with media it was also a delight to welcome external media to the region. Our media guests, some who had never been here before, had the opportunity to see our region in a different light than oil sands or wildfires, but rather that of a sporting competition.

The ensuing media coverage was almost completely positive. Stories of the games were told but they also reflected stories of our region; our places, our people and our tremendous spirit as displayed by the 1900 volunteers who gave of their time to make the games happen.

For me, it was a genuine pleasure. It is always a delight for me to work with people who are not only professionally committed but who bring passion and enthusiasm to what they do. Working with the games staff and members of the games committee showed me their genuine dedication to the end result, which was not only the delivery of the games but delivery of an unforgettable experience for the athletes involved.

One of the comments often heard at the games was that some of these young adults could be the next Olympians. And while that is true what I kept thinking is that for some of these young adults this may be their only big competition; the only time they have an opportunity to compete at this level and in games of this nature. And so it was so important that the experience be a positive one for them; one they would remember for years to come no matter what their athletic future holds.

When I looked around that field house as the closing ceremonies unfolded, I saw young adults who were not only tired but happy. Whether they had won medals or not, they had had the opportunity to participate in a sporting event with their peers.

Some of the kids sitting on that field house floor might well be the next Olympians. Whether they are future Olympians or not, they are our future – the future of our province, and what a tremendous honour it was to host them in our community.

And what an honour it was to host the officials, the coaches, the parents and the media as we celebrated not only sport but our youth and future. From the opening ceremonies and the bright young smiling faces to the last moments before they boarded the buses to head home, it was simply a joy to have these young adults in our community.

We sent some of these young adults home with medals, but more importantly we sent all of them and the adults around them home as ambassadors for the Wood Buffalo region. They saw our facilities and our schools, stayed in our hotels, ate in our restaurants, and met our remarkable people who volunteered for these games. I believe there is a value in that that cannot be measured in economic terms.

I have had the very good fortune, both through my professional work and volunteerism, to participate in many of these events and work with other members of this community to deliver them. I am so very proud to have worked on the 2018 Wood Buffalo Alberta Winter Games, and it is a memory I will carry with me just as I do with all the other events I have had the great pleasure to participate in.

Who were the real winners at the Alberta Winter Games? Was it the young athletes who came to compete, but also made new friends and had an exciting new experience? Was it the organizing committee comprised mostly of volunteers who had the opportunity to feel such pride in delivering this event? Or perhaps it was all of us and our entire region as we had the opportunity to once again welcome the province into our home? We have seen so many challenges in our region; from the economic downturn to the wildfire, we have braved some very difficult times. How truly remarkable is it that despite all of that we remain hospitable hosts, avid volunteers and community enthusiasts?

What I saw during the Alberta Winter Games in our region was a community that has come together despite the challenges to ensure the successful delivery of an event. We wanted to ensure our visitors went home with good memories and a positive experience of their time Wood Buffalo.

And when I looked around that field house during the closing ceremonies and saw all those smiling, tired faces about to head home on their buses, I knew that we had found success.

Games time is now over; but the memories will live on, both for the people who were part of delivering it and for the young adults who visited our region, many for the very first time, finding a beautiful place where the northern lights dance, the rivers flow and the boreal forest grows.

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