Canadian Olympic skier Emily Brydon still remembers her first ever international ski competition.
It wasn’t so much the event she recalled, speaking Wednesday to hundreds of athletes at the welcoming luncheon at the 2011 International Children’s Games in Kelowna, it was the friends that she made.
“I got to Europe and saw the culture and realized it was about so much more than the actual sport,” said Brydon, an alpine skier who went to the Olympics three times and won nine medals on the World Cup circuit. “It was so great to experience that. The reason I am standing here is because I share the passion for sport that you do. But I understand there is a bigger passion than just winning.
“It’s about taking what you can out of sport, it’s about the friends that you make and the goals you want to achieve and it’s about overcoming adversity.”
As youth from cities from across Canada, the United States, Europe and Australia continued to arrive at the luncheon at The Delta Grand, Brydon challenged the young athletes to make as many friends as they could during the four-day event.
“I really encourage you to make those friendships and work hard to maintain them,” she said.
“The people that you are going to meet on the hill or in the rink are going to be in your life forever.
“I want you to go back into your community and bring sport and play into your community, to make your community stronger.”
As president of the International Children’s Games. Torsten Rasch has been helping communities become stronger by hosting the games, which focus more on fun and participation than on winning.
He told the athletes gathered to enjoy the experience.
“We come together to make connections with young people from all over the world,” said Rasch. “It’s great to be in Canada for the first time (for the ICG Winter Games). You will have a lifetime experience during these Games.
“There are a lot people to meet and you can learn from one another. Use your time together.”
Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd welcomed the athletes to Kelowna, inviting those gathered to return some day.
“We want you to come back and visit our beautiful city,” she said. “We combine culture, sports and we have a great beautiful lake, we have ski hills. We welcome all of you.”
For Brydon, the chance to see the youthful energy likely brought her back to the beginnings of her sporting journey, when she was just a kid, zipping down ski hills and making lifelong friends at international competitions.
She closed by reading from a prepared letter.
“Embrace this honour and do the best that you can,” she read. “I encourage you to open your eyes to other sports. The people that you meet will become lifelong friends and you can create lifelong memories.”