SPORTS

Canadian Olympic Foundation launches #NoworNever campaign for young athletes

06/12/2015 10:36 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Soren Meeuwisse is on the cusp of being one of the country's next great mountain bikers. But she's nowhere near being one of Canada's best-funded athletes.

The 17-year-old from Orillia, Ont., is caught in the middle. She needs a top result to become eligible for national funding, but she could use some funding to help her reach that top result.

"You get to the point where it starts to get really expensive but the funding is not there yet, so that's where it really becomes tough," said her dad Glenn. "And Soren is really at that crux where she's just on the brink of being able to access some national funding but not quite there."

Meeuwisse, Canada's top-ranked junior, is featured in the Canadian Olympic Foundation's (COF) #NowOrNever Next Generation marketing campaign launched Friday, which puts faces of the next generation of sports stars front and centre.

If Own the Podium funds Canada's very best athletes, Leanne Nicolle, the COF's executive director, likes to think of this initiative as "own the future."

"We spend our money at the top, we're winning, it's going well, so we need to continue investing there," Nicolle said. "But there is no money available to young athletes further down in the system. The financial burden rests on the family.

"We understand that young people drop out of sport for a variety of reasons," she added. "We just don't want finance to be one of them. Canada is not going to have the best athletes at the top because they've just dropped out because of finance."

The COF has raised $5 million so far this year for programs — including the hiring of coaches, securing facilities, etc. — aimed toward young athletes.

Meeuwisse's dad Glenn estimates, between coaching costs, racing fees, and travel to camps in the U.S. and Europe, the family has spent $20,000 this year on Soren's sports endeavours.

"But (Lea Babcock, Soren's mom) and I look at each other and say 'What else would we be doing that's such a positive experience? And what else would you want your kid to be doing, and what better thing to spend money on?' Glenn said. "It's not hanging out at the mall, it's not drugs, it's not alcohol. It's a great thing.

"People call it a sacrifice, but I don't think it's a sacrifice as much as just an amazing positive experience to have with kids and to do for kids."

Meeuwisse, who was the Canadian junior champion last season, needs to finish top-12 in her under-19 age group at the world championships this summer in Andorra to qualify for funding through the Canadian Cycling Association. She narrowly missed the mark last year.

"That's quite expensive to go over there for one race," Meeuwisse said. "It is very difficult to come back another year and re-try to get the funding that I need to support myself as a developing athlete."

The Next Generation campaign follows on the #NowOrNever campaign first launched in April, which featured 14 of Canada's top athletes including diver Meaghan Benfeito, cyclist Allison Beveridge, paddler Mark Oldershaw and long jumper Christabel Nettey.

"Now that've started winning, we need to start investing further down into the pipeline to ensure that we have sustainable podium success," Nicolle said. "What we've done at the Canadian Olympic Foundation is put our stake in the ground and said 'We're going to go out and find Canadian funding to start investing in athletes like Soren.'"

The Next Generation campaign also includes hurdler Mariam Abdul-Rashid of Oshawa, Ont., gymnasts Jordyn Pedersen of Mississauga, Ont., Ryan Oehrlein of Georgetown, Ont., Megan Michelle Roberts of Toronto, and Jonathan Scripnick of Milton, Ont., and swimmer Ray Yang of Toronto.

The campaign was created and produced by the Canadian Olympic Committee and the COF, which was established in 2007.

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