Will Dean invested the last decade of his life into becoming one of Canada’s elite rowers.
In 2015, the 28-year-old Kelowna product realized the payoff with a pair of gold medals at the Pan American Games.
Dean, Matthew Buie of Duntroon, Ont., Julien Bahain of Sherbrooke, Que., and Rob Gibson of Kingston, Ont., led from start to finish as the Canadian crew rowed to victory in the men’s quad sculls.,
It was Dean’s first international medal on Canadian soil and came in front of family, friends and a throng of supportive fans.
“There were a lot of emotions and just so much relief when we crossed the finish line,” Dean told the Capital News shortly after the race. “I really feel tons of gratitude, having the chance to race in front of Canadians like we did. I can’t say how neat it was, you think a lot about it, but until you do it, you don’t know just how special it is.
“My family was there, there were tons of people in the crowd,” Dean added. “It was so cool.”
A day later, Dean struck gold one more time for Canada in the men’s eights.
“To win two gold medals, it was a pretty nice couple of days, beyond what I expected,” Dean said. “Just the feeling of gratitude I had when crossing the finish line, I’m so thankful.”
Dean and the Canadian men’s quad team are now focusing on qualifying for a spot at the 2016 Olympis Games in Rio.
With the two biggest wins of her career, 2015 was truly a breakthrough year in the pool for Kierra Smith.
After winning gold in the 200-yard breaststroke at the NCAA championships last spring, the 21-year-old from Kelowna followed up with another gold medal in July at the Pan American Games in Toronto.
Smith’s record-setting swim in the 200-metre race in her home country was the undisputed highlight of her career to date.
“It was so unreal representing Canada, having the Pan Am Games in Toronto,” said Smith. “It was such a good experience. Just the crowd there and the energy, and I just tried to gather as much energy as I could from them as I was swimming, you could definitely hear them the entire time.
“The experience of getting the gold medal in Toronto is something I’ll remember, in 10 years when I look back at 2015.”
Smith, a member of the Liquid Lightning and University of Minnesota swim teams— closed out the season with a personal best swim and and eighth-place showing at the FINA world championships in Japan.
With her best year to date, Smith is looking towards bigger and better things in 2016.
“It’s an important stepping stone towards the Olympics in Rio,” she said.
Three Kelowna field hockey players helped the Canadian women’s team to its best international finish in 16 years in July at the 2015 Pan American Games.
KSS grads Abigail Raye, Dani Hennig and Natalie Sourisseau were all part of Canada’s bronze medal performance in Toronto, as the Canadians defeated Chile 1-0.
“This really meant a lot to us,” Raye said of the third-place showing.
“Four years ago, we lost to Chile in the bronze medal game (Pan Am), so it was nice get past that hurdle this time.“
Raye, 24, has the second most international caps with the Canadian program among active players with 139.
Hennig, 24, has 103 caps, while Sourisseau, 22, has played in 82 international matches.