The Okanagan’s track and field community will be taking a keen interest in the proceedings this weekend at Foote Field in Edmonton.
Kelowna athletes John Gay and Aaron Stroda will both be competing for their country for the first time at the Pan Am Junior Athletics Championships—one on the track and one in the field.
On Sunday, Gay, 18, will line up for the 3,000 metre steeplechase, while Stroda, 19, competes in the hammer throw.
Gay, who qualified for the games by winning silver at the junior nationals earlier this month in Edmonton, is thrilled to be making his international debut for Canada.
“It’s a huge honour to be competing for Canada,” said Gay, a member of the Okanagan Athletics Club. “I feel like I’ve been blessed with a national team appointment, more than anything I’m eager to compete at this level.
“Hopefully it will be the first of many national teams for me.”
Stroda, meanwhile, is the No. 1-ranked junior hammer thrower in Canada, having won gold earlier this summer at the nationals in Edmonton.
At the Pan Am junior level, Stroda said he will go in to the competition ranked between sixth and eighth.
And while stepping on to the podium is the obvious goal, simply enjoying the experience is what’s equally important for Stroda.
“My realistic goal is to make the final, then see what happens from there,” said Stroda, whose personal best throw is 62.94 m. “Most of all I want to go in and have as much fun as I can. I’ve achieved everything I wanted to this year, so I don’t want to put pressure on myself.
“When I do that, I don’t perform well, so the idea is to relax and enjoy it.”
As for Gay, the UBC Thunderbirds’ track team member heads into the steeplechase event ranked third, with the toughest competition most likely to come from a pair of Americans as well as Canadian teammate Caleb Dejong.
“My goal really is just to do as well as I can, I’m going in with the belief that I can win and be up there on the podium,” said the OKM grad. “I need to be fast off the gun and be with that lead group and just run my race.”
For both athletes, this season marks their last at the junior level as both move into the more competitive senior ranks next year.
Stroda sees the Pan Am junior as another stepping stone to what he hopes will be a long and prosperous run as an internationally competitive hammer thrower.
“The senior level will be tough, so I’ll be building and growing for the next few years,” said Stroda, who is coached by Derek Evely in Kamloops. “Some throwers don’t reach their prime until their 30s so I have a lot of time to develop and learn. I’m still enjoying it every time I do it, so I plan to stick with it.”
While this will be Stroda’s final major competition of the season, Gay will be in Fort McMurray, AB next month competing for Team B.C. at the Western Canada Summer Games.