Whether it was on weekends, after school, or even on a national holiday, chances were you’d find Christie Van Hees spending pretty much all of her spare time on a racquetball court.
Little wonder then that the Kelowna woman became the sport’s most successful player ever to come out of Canada.
A six-time national and two-time world racquetball champion, Van Hees was one of six new members inducted Thursday into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
Van Hees, who has always had strong ties to Kelowna, said her hometown, and her family and friends were vital in keeping her grounded throughout her 20-year competitive career.
“Travelling and competing in an individual sport can be isolating, so returning to my hometown and the people I grew up with was very fulfilling and gave me the balance I needed to be successful,” said Van Hees, who now lives in Dallas, Texas. “I always loved returning for this very reason.
“Thank you to the city of Kelowna for this amazing experience this is truly an honour.”
Van Hees—the No. 1 ranked player in the world in 2005—won the world titles in 1998 and 2006.
She also won a silver medal at the Pan-Am Games in 1999.
• Sarah Charles—Athlete
As a five-year-old, Charles took to gymnastics like a duck to water and by the age of 17 had won her first world double mini trampoline championship.
A member of the Okanagan Gymnastics Centre, Charles captured gold medals at both the Pan Am and Indo-Pacific Games, then added a second world title to her resumé
While Charles’ success was partly due both to her talent and hard work, she credited her parents, Gordy and Jennifer Charles, for making a decorated career possible.
“I feel so fortunate that I was given the opportunity when I was young to be very physically competent and very confident in my body’s ability, not all kids are given that same chance,” Charles said in reference to her parents who have made significant contributions to Kelowna’s sports community.
“I feel humbled to be up here when they’re the ones who have done so much work. I feel this award is more dedicated to them.”
• Wayne Hicks—Pioneer Athlete
To this day, Hicks continues to be the only player from Kelowna to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup.
He won the NHL championship as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961.
Hicks played 117 NHL games with five different teams, scoring 37 points.
Hicks, who lives in Scottsdale, AZ and was unable to attend Thursday, was represented at the event by his twin brother, Warren.
“I’m humbled to be given such a great honour,” Wayne wrote in a letter read by his brother. “Okanagan Valley has produced so great athletes over the past decades and it’s overwhelming to me that I’m mentioned in the same breath with the best. I will hold this induction to the Hall close to my heart.”
• Rod Belinski—Builder
Instrumental in the growth of volleyball in the Okanagan for more than 30 years, Belinski coached the KLO Cougars to five B.C. high school titles. He also headed up the move of the provincial boys championships to Kelowna in 1993 and served as tournament chair for 19 years.
“I feel very lucky to be inducted into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame,” said
Belinski. “To be honoured for what I love to do, I feel very fortunate.”
Belsinki also considers himself lucky to have worked with many high-caliber athletes while at KLO, including fellow inductees Joanne Ritchie and Erminia Russo, as well as Rob Friend, Conrad Leinemann, Doug Reimer and Heather Mandoli.
“This was the type of talent I had to work with,” he said. “It’s easy when you have that.”
• John and Jennifer Hindle—Bennett Award
Among the Hindles’ many contributions to Kelowna’s sporting and arts communities during their lives was launching the Apple Triathlon in 1983.
John also helped build the junior ski racing programs at both Big White and Silver Star Mountains.
In addition to supporting John’s many endeavours, Jennifer volunteered tirelessly in Kelowna’s arts scene.
Son Dan Hindle accepted the posthumous award on behalf of his parents.
“What inspired them was what they did for young adults in the community, and the joy the two of them shared in that,” said Dan Hindle. “It’s a great honour to be able to accept on behalf of mom and dad.”
The Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame exhibit is now being displayed at the Okanagan Heritage Museum in downtown Kelowna.