A party was held Saturday at Willoughby Community Park for Fraser Valley’s London-bound Olympians and Paralympians.
Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese, Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, and Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin were part of a public salute to the athletes and coaches will represent Canada at the upcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
During Lift-Off to London, presented by PacificSport Fraser Valley, a sizeable crowd sat on the grass just south of the Langley Events Centre to soak in the Olympic atmosphere and then take part a meet-and-greet with the local Canadian representatives, ranging from Paralympic equestrian veteran Lauren Barwick to first-time Paralympic runner Braedon Dolfo.
Husband and wife Mike and Allison McNeill, from Surrey, coach Canada’s senior national women’s basketball team that just recently qualified for the London Games.
Allison called amateur sport “the best-kept secret in Canada,” so she was encouraged by the turnout on the first hot day of summer.
“The Langley Events Centre, I coach here all the time, but I’ve never been back here,” she said with a laugh. “Amazing. This is such a community. It was a great send off.”
She said there is still some momentum left over from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
“I think people are still excited about the whole idea of athletes representing Canada,” Allison said. “We just qualified last Sunday, so we were one of the last teams to qualify. We were in Turkey. We’ve been getting emails and calls, and media [attention], so we can definitely feel it building for London.”
Joining the national team coaches at the Lift-Off celebration was player Teresa Gabriele, from Mission.
Making her first Olympic appearance is women’s air pistol shooter Dorothy Ludwig, from Langley.
“It’s really encouraging to be a part of a community like Langley,” Ludwig said. “You know they’re behind you, you know they support you, and you know they’re rooting for you, no matter what. It’s really a beautiful experience.”
A second-generation Olympian (her father, the late Bill Hare, competed in pistol shooting at the who competed at the 64, ’68 and ’72 Olympics), Ludwig says going to the Olympics is a “dream come true.”
“I get to follow in my dad’s footsteps with shooting, and again with going to the Olympics, so it’s been a real blessing,” she said.
Ludwig said she feels a bond with her fellow Canadian and Olympic and Paralympic representatives from the Fraser Valley.
“I’m going to be able to see these people again when we all go over [to London],” she said. “It’s really excited to be able to meet them before we go.”
The London Olympics run July 27 to Aug. 12.
The Paralympics follow, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.