London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
For Cheryl Finn, the opening day of the Summer Olympics felt a lot like Christmas, which shouldn’t be a surprise for someone who works as the Tourism London’s director for sports tourism.
Finn maybe wasn’t exactly playing Santa Claus on Friday (July 27), but she did help London West MPP Chris Bentley and London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews as they announced over $400,000 in funding for 84 London and area elite level athletes. The announcement, made at the London Sports Hall of Fame atrium at the John Labatt Centre, included nearly two-dozen athletes who will receive funding through proceeds from the Quest for Gold lottery.
“Today marks the beginning of the 2012 London Olympics, in that other London. We are joined by athletes in the prime of pursuing their dreams,” Finn said. “On the opening day of the 2012 Summer Olympics, we recognize the hard work, sacrifices and dedication to your sports.”
Since its inception in 2006, Ontario has invested $60 million in high performance athletes across the province through the Quest for Gold. Since 2006, Ontario has awarded more than $1.7 million to London’s Quest for Gold recipients.
The impact of receiving the Quest for Gold funding, which this time around equaled $402,800, is something Joey Barker knows well. Barker, a 2008 Paralympian who finished ninth in Beijing, received Quest for Gold funding in 2007, 2008, 2009.
“For athletes who are training, living on their own, it’s crucial. It’s impossible pretty much for them to have any regular job or a job that can help them afford a place to stay,” Barker said. “For a lot of the national athletes, especially on Team Canada for swimming, I know they live on their own. Without funding, they can’t afford to live on their own, to train on their own.”
Barker said he received $7,000 and then $6,000 and $5,000 through Quest for Gold. Understandably, Barker said the funding gave him a great sense of relief and allowed him to focus on his Paralympic dreams.
“It was a sense of relief; it was like 10 Christmases in a row. It was hard to believe at first because it was so much money,” Barker said. “It was the best thing in the world. I didn’t have to worry about financial things. To get paid to do something you love, to be paid to do a sport, it was especially strange.”
The objectives of the Quest for Gold program include encouraging athletes to stay in Ontario to live and train, compensate athletes for earnings lost while training, enable athletes to pursue excellence in sport while fulfilling their educational goals and to increase athlete access to high performance coaching.
Bentley said the funding is a combination of application by the athletes and identification by experts. “For athletes who have achieved a certain level of excellence and need a little bit of support at either the provincial or national level to take that next step.”
While obviously supportive of the province’s efforts in helping to fund the efforts of elite-level athletes, Bentley said there is another reason for helping these people reach their goals.
“It is so inspiring listening to these athletes, understanding what they have accomplished. It really is awe-inspiring,” Bentley said. “They are a great example for all people out there who have a dream and aren’t sure. What these athletes are telling us is whatever your dream, athletic, artistic, science, humanities; you will never achieve it unless you try.”
Matthews agreed, adding she was “in awe” of the dedication show by all athletes who not only strive to be the best they can, but also serve as role models within their respective communities.
“I want to say a special thank you for inspiring others to be the best you can be,” Matthews said. “You work hard to be the best you can be, but your influence extends beyond that by inspiring others to also be the best that they can be.”
Even though his Paralympic career is over with, Barker was also feeling inspired during the announcement. While being particularly modest about his own achievements, Barker said he was hopefully this new generation of athletes will exceed his accomplishments.
“It is great those people will be getting the money they need so they can train. Hopefully they have the community around them, the people to help them succeed,” Barker said. “I had the right people around me so when it came to my success, it was an amalgamation of myself and everyone I ever swam with or played sports with. Hopefully they have the kind of support I did and can do even better than I did.”
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