Last year, I was asked for the first time in over three decades of weekly freelancing to do a review of my top sports stories of the year. Newly-arrived editor, Emelie Peacock has given me the nod again… so here we go.
January 5 issue:
New Year’s Day started off with loud screams and more than a few whimpers. Prior to the annual Hope Polar Bear Swim, event organizer Brian McKinney had been anticipating a typical cold-water dip — but December 31 brought snow and a big drop in temperatures and McKinney said when he went to check Kawkawa Lake on New Year’s Eve, “There was a light slush.”
Overnight, the slush froze and the 50 or so dippers had to stomp through the crust to get to the water, some getting their legs slightly cut up in the process.
Once McKinney had thawed out his face, he relived the experience over the phone. To get a sampling of what it must have been like, I sipped on a cold beverage as McKinney recalled the details that had been frozen into his m-m-memory. Quotes from other swimmers and photos by then-editor, XY Zeng made for a fun first edition of the year.
January 12 issue:
Since the Hope Standard goes to print on Wednesdays, sports and news stories are at-best no fresher than one day old when the paper hits the streets. Sometimes, I can take a guess at the future — as I did on January 4 when I sent my story in, predicting: “Where people swam on Sunday, they’ll be skating by Thursday.”
With the crash in temperatures and the forecast for more of the same, I had a good feeling that there would be at least some people testing the ice at First Beach by the time the paper came out.
Those who know local outdoors enthusiast, Kelly Pearce, will know of his zeal for testing out new ice — then reporting it on Facebook and through e-mails. From experience, he knows outdoor ice in Hope usually has a very narrow window for skaters. “You’ve got to be prepared to drop a few things and skate your brains out and get your chores done later,” he declared in January.
As I correctly predicted, Pearce was out on the ice on Wednesday, January 4 and skating all over the lake the next day, with colleagues from the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning. News soon spread — and by Sunday, hundreds of people were out on the lake, in skates or on foot.
Miranda Cowan figured she and her husband Jacob did 11 or 12 laps of the lake, from Friday to Sunday. “It would take us maybe half an hour to get around,” figured Miranda, who had also been in the Polar Bear swim with Jacob.
“Other times it took longer because we kept running into people we knew and we stopped to talk. It seemed like the whole town was down there on Sunday.”
The skating window slammed shut with a big dump of snow on Sunday evening, except for where some keeners had cleared out a rink. People then shifted gears to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Even a few snowmobiles and quads were seen.
In the days of yore, there would have been a string of people ice fishing — even after the skating had been ruined by crusty snow. It was too successful for them, though, so the practice was stopped to maintain the fishing stock.
Kawkawa Lake was a real magnet for townsfolk and visitors for the first few weeks of 2017 — but only because people were willing to set other things aside and get out there and enjoy a short-lived gift from Mother Nature. Will the gift return this winter?
June 15 issue:
For the first time in 12 years, a swim meet was held in Hope, drawing over 200 swimmers and their families. It was an amazing feat that the small RiverMonsters club pulled off — made possible by the volunteer help from the local community and the community of visiting clubs.
Hope was once a popular spot on the summer swimming circuit, when the Hope Otters swam in the outdoor Centennial pool, under the direction of the late Dan Sharrers. Visiting teams could camp on the vacant space where the skate park now sits, so families could stay close to the pool and have plenty of time to play and socialize.
Club vice-president, Catherine Freimark said that feeling was revived again, with 22 tents, trailers and RVs in the area by the bike park.
“Lots of people stayed in motels, as well — but after seeing the camping, they said they’ll be camping next year,” said Freimark, whose husband Mike coached the swimmers to two podium finishes and a bag full of personal best times.
In a touching tribute, Barb Sharrers was invited to come and sit poolside during the meet.
“Everybody came over to meet Mrs. Sharrers; former Otters and others who swam against Dan Sharrers’ Hope Otters teams,” said Freimark. “She teared up… and I teared up.”
“I was just thrilled to be there,” said Barb a few days later. “It took me back many years… brought back so many memories. You know, I used to type up the program for the meets on a typewriter and we ran them off on a Gestetner! Things have improved so much.”
Sports have a way of making long-lasting friendships and memories that endure, even after some of the faces and facilities have departed. I was reminded of this when I was at the Vernon BC 55+ Games in September, during their evening street party. I stopped to chat with a local realtor, John Deak, who was showing his restored 1960s VW Beetle. He was talking with another man, Frank Gruen, who had raced in rally cars alongside Deak’s dad.
I stepped in and wondered if they knew of Taisto Heinonen, a racecar builder and driver now living in Hope. Gruen and Heinonen competed in the 1970s and 80s (see http://www.gvmps.org) and Gruen and his wife Kay immediately recognized Heinonen’s name — but it was the mention of Hope that got them thinking of the old Hope Otters’ swim meets, where the Gruen kids competed against the Sharrers kids, Jay and Matt.
With Frank behind the wheel, I doubt the Gruen kids were ever late for a swim meet.
I’ll be back next week, with a few more of my favourite stories from 2017.