In August of 2010, local competitors did not have to travel far at all to take part in the Ontario Summer Games, as Sudbury played host to the multi-sport competition for the second time in the city's history.
Later this week, when the local crew hits the road for the 2014 Ontario Summer Games, it's unlikely they could be travelling much further. In fact, other than Thunder Bay, I cannot think of a single host community that would require a much further trek than the eight hour drive to Windsor that awaits our local contingent.
Not that they are about to complain. With the Games providing an equal-footing approach to all sports that are involved, the bi-annual celebration of provincial excellence allows for many teens who partake in less publicized endeavours to share the spotlight with the more high profile athletes.
Sixteen-year-old Bradley Sheppard certainly fits the bill. The Lockerby Composite student has been sailing for the past eight years, progressing into the competitive realm after first being introduced at a "Learn to Sail" summer camp.
"It's a lot different than anything else that I've ever done," said Sheppard, recently preparing to tackle the waters of Lake Ramsay. "No one that I knew did it, and it was something I could excel at."
In fact, the most avid of local sports fans would be hard-pressed to provide even a basic description of the skill-set needed to match up with the truly elite boatsmen with whom Sheppard is about to share the narrow waterways adjacent to the Windsor Yacht Club.
"One of the main skills is learning how to read the wind, how to adapt to the situations you are put into," said Sheppard. "And the start of the race is very important. If you get stuck behind other boats during the start, you're going to be playing catch-up through most of the race."
Although youth sailing still features limited numbers in Sudbury, Sheppard does not expect to be ill-prepared come race day in Windsor. "Sudbury is a very good place to come sailing, we usually have good winds," Sheppard explained.
"With all of the islands and hills around Lake Ramsay, it makes the winds a lot shiftier, which makes it more challenging. I think we're lucky to have such a good venue."
Joining Sheppard in the water will be 15-year-old Spencer Allen, though in a completely different environment.
The long-time swimmer will be one of forty or so young triathletes competing at the 2014 Games, having first being introduced to the "Kids of Steel" program several years back.
"I started doing triathlons when I was eight or nine," said Allen. "There was not a lot going through my mind then before a race."
With limited distances providing an initiation (100m swim/5 km bike/one km run), Allen is now on the verge of tackling the sprint triathlon races, with Windsor yielding a course that features a 700m swim, 15 km on the bike and four kilometre run to close things off.
Taping into the likes of Buddy Green, Devin Wittig, Mike Coughlin and the good folks with the Sudbury Cycling Club, Allen has worked towards becoming a more well-rounded triathlete.
"After doing it for a couple of years, I realized that I could be pretty good at it," he said. "But I had to get a lot better at running. I don't have trouble doing the distances, but I have to be able to run fast."
Like all those who typically attend the Summer Games, Allen is most looking forward to a weekend that is definitely unique when compared to the normal circuit of races he does across the province.
"It will be my first time doing something with all of the other sports going on in one weekend," Allen said. "It should be neat meeting all of the other athletes."
Even confined to simply the world of the karate competitors, the Ontario Summer Games offers a variation from the norm.
"At other tournaments, we might expect one or two of the top competitors in our division to show up," suggested 14-year-old John Howard of the Benoit Martial Arts Studio. "This tournament, we know all of the top competitors will be there."
Perfecting his martial arts skills since the age of five, Howard acknowledges a comfort level with the traditional kata, having now mastered between 20 and 30 of the technical patterns in working his way through seven levels of belts.
"It's very difficult to learn the first few katas, because you're not used to it," said Howard. "Now, it becomes easier to learn the new patterns. I can do more advanced things within a quicker period of time."
Heading into the competition with a sole objective of doing their best, Howard and company look forward to the new road they are about to travel. Even if travelling that road takes some eight hours.
The local 2014 Ontario Summer Games athletes (to the best of our knowledge) are:
Archery: Brett Furtado
Baseball: Vince Bonhomme, Brett Melanson, Tyrus Cuculick, Brett Mourot, Bryson McLoughlin, John Poulton, Andrew Gorman, Parker Savard, Ryan Barton
Basketball: Kennedi Cashmore
Beach Volleyball: Justine Tubin and Gabby Huneault; Silka Abresch and Sara-Jo Santi; Erica Thibault and Taylor Wilkinson
Golf: Ward Kyle
Karate: Bradley Chaput, John Howard and Marissa Meandro
Sailing: Bradley Sheppard
Triathlon: Spencer Allen