Vancouver Island sports stars honoured in Hall of Fame

Author: 
Cleve Dheensaw

Jennifer Walinga never got to stand on the victory podium at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

But the Victorian got to take her rightful place on the stage alongside her crew mates — including Barcelona Olympics double gold-medallist rowers Brenda Taylor from Nanaimo, Jessica Monroe-Gonin of Victoria and UVic Vikes great Kirsten Barnes — as the 1992 Olympic-champion Canadian four was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Toronto Wednesday night.

Adding to the Class of 2013’s Island flavour was three-time world champion mountain biker and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics silver-medallist Alison Sydor of Victoria. The other inductees were NHL great Joe Sakic of Burnaby, curler Russ Howard and Paralympian Andre Viger.

But perhaps it was Walinga who was most appreciative of the honour.

Walinga rowed from the pivotal stroke seat for both the Canadian four and eight in 1991 and 1992, but injured her back just before both those Olympic finals in Barcelona and was replaced at the last minute by spare Kay Worthington. So close to the ultimate prize, Canadian coaches simply could not take a chance on Walinga’s health. Both crews won Olympic gold.

The crucial role played by Walinga leading up to the Olympic final races was acknowledged by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame by including Walinga for induction with Taylor, Monroe-Gonin, Barnes and Worthington.

“I was stroking the four and eight crews until the finals at the Olympics. We were undefeated that year in both events, and had won both events at the World Championships the year before,” recalled Walinga, who now teaches at Royal Roads University, where she is director of the School of Communication and Culture.

“I then had a back injury just before the Olympic races and we couldn’t risk me not being able to complete the race, so we brought in our spare, Kay Worthington. It was a huge testament to the team as a whole that we were able to remain calm and focused, put the race ahead of everything else, and still win.”

Walinga, who graduated with a doctorate from the University of Victoria in 2007, later taught at St. Michaels University School for 15 years and kept her hand in the sport by founding and coaching the rowing team at the school for 13 years.

Vic High-grad Monroe-Gonin, now a physiotherapist at Royal Jubilee Hospital and a mother of two, described those Canadian four and eight crews as “unbeatable.”

But she said her relationship with Elk Lake now consists of jogging around it, not rowing on it.

Taylor, a Nanaimo District Secondary graduate, is still heavily involved in the sport as manager of the Victoria City Rowing Club.

Barnes, also a member of the UVic Sports Hall of Fame, has a PhD and has been an applied mental performance consultant for Canadian and British teams to the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

Sydor, 46, rose to greatness after being challenged to come out for a ride in 1987 on the Saanich Peninsula by the male road racers of the Victoria Wheelers Club. At the time, she was a UVic bio-chemistry student and part-time triathlete.

Those early rides are now a part of Island sporting lore. Within weeks, Sydor was dropping many of her fellow Wheelers and leaving them in her wake and an Olympic medallist, three-time world champion, and now Canadian Sports Hall of Famer, was born.

Sydor, Walinga, Taylor, Monroe-Gonin and Barnes are the latest of numerous past Island athletes and builders among the now 540 inductees into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. This is the third consecutive year that an Island athlete has been inducted. Olympic gold-medallist rower Derek Porter of Victoria was enshrined in the Class of 2012 and three-time Ironman Hawaii world champion Peter Reid of Victoria in the Class of 2011.

The Hall is in an award-winning 40,000 square-foot facility at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. All Canadians are welcome to submit nominations for the Class of 2014 by Jan. 15 at www.sportshall.ca.