BRITISH COLUMBIA

Young athletes gather in Prince George for 2015 Canada Winter Games

02/14/2015 09:45 EST | Updated 04/16/2015 05:59 EDT
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - As much as the unseasonably warm weather this week has caused headaches for organizers of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, Prince George might as well be Mexico to Hayden Hickey and the rest of the short track speed skating team from Nunavut.

Anything's a holiday when you can say goodbye to -66 C cold.

An hour before they left for the Games, the temperature in their hometown of Iqaluit was -59 C and with the wind chill it felt like -66C. So coming to Prince George, where it was a balmy 5 C, felt like springtime to the 15-year-old Hickey.

"It's a lot warmer here," Hickey said. "We had an extreme cold warning of -60 C before we left, every single community in Nunavut had an extreme cold warning of at least -55 C or below. We were glad to leave."

Short track starts Sunday with the 1,500 metre event.

"It's going to be exciting, with lots of competition, trying to get some best times, skating against Quebec," said the 15-year-old Hickey. "My goal is just times and trying to keep up to everybody else, not necessarily medals. I skated (Friday) and the arena is warmer which makes it harder to skate but the ice is really nice. It should be good skating."

Assuming it gets cold enough to freeze ice, Hickey hopes to have time to check out long track speed skating on outdoor oval at Exhibition Park, which he's never seen live before. The 1,500 metre long track event scheduled for Saturday was postponed and rescheduled for early Sunday morning.

Hickey's teammate Tyler Kirk, 17, has competed in three Arctic Winter Games but says nothing compares with what he and the four-skater Nunavut team is in for over the next week at Lakeland Dental Arena.

"This is totally way bigger than that," said Kirk. "I've trained a lot for it this year."

Their coach, Kyle St. Laurent, celebrated his 29th birthday Saturday and can't think of better venue to help celebrate it while representing Nunavut.

"This is my first time at a Canada Winter Games and it's been really great, the city has been overly friendly to us," said St. Laurent. "In a city this size, people aren't usually that friendly to you.

"I'm looking forward to having my skaters beat their personal bests. The main thing is beating their best times, coming down here and have fun and meet new people. This is their first time at a Canada Games and they aren't likely to win medals."

Wheelchair basketball athlete Michael Kilonzo of Mississauga, Ont., and his Ontario team open their tournament Monday against Saskatchewan.

"I've never been here and it's a small community but everyone is really nice here," said Kilonzo. "We have a good team and we're really close-knit, we don't just play for this one tournament. We are like a good bunch of friends and we've been together for years."

Kilonzo says people who have never seen wheelchair basketball are in for a few surprises when they come to the court at Duchess Park secondary school.

"People don't think about the contact or how fast-paced wheelchair basketball is," he said. "There's lots of contact and it has the same rules as standup basketball. The nets are the same height, there's dribbling, it's just modified a bit for the chair."

His teammate Hisham Mohammad of Whitby, Ont., knows Avril Harris of Prince George, an able-bodied member of the B.C. team, and can't wait to get rolling on Ontario's medal quest.

"It's truly an overwhelming experience, it's a beautiful city and I love the smalltown feel — the people are really nice and I love it here," said Mohammad, 20. "We're usually representing our own club, with Ontario behind us, but now we have a multisport event and the entire squad is supporting you.

"This is my first and last Canada Games and I'm honoured to play wheelchair basketball for Ontario. I'm really hoping to see all the events I can if we have time. I've never seen ringette and I've never seen archery or biathlon. I've tried sledge hockey as well and I know a lot about wheelchair sports and I want to show other people how exciting wheelchair basketball is. You always see people's abilities in disabilities."

(Prince George Citizen)