What makes a kid a winner?

Good self esteem, in my opinion, is the number one gift we can give our kids. And we give it not through arrogance, but through honest self-appraisal and applause.

In our wonderful community, it’s happening at many levels... on stages in school, on soccer fields, in rugby games, in debating clubs, chess clubs, dance, skating. The opportunity for a child to grow a solid relationship with him or herself within the world is the gift that ultimately gives back forever.

This is true this year for 30 young people from all over south-central Ontario.

These kids, ranging from ages 12-21, begin their cross country ski training as early as September 1. It starts with individual exercise programs and continues with dry land development until Kim and Dave Vinney groom the first trails with the first snow at Hardwood Hills. And they do it for the Hardwood Hills Junior Cross Country Ski Team.

Families from Kitchener, Mississauga, Orangeville, Stouffville, and Barrie area travel up to three hours twice every weekend to get their young cross country ski racers to weekend training. These young racers are being coached by the best the country has to offer. Jack Sasseville, former Olympic team coach, former national team coach, is a level IV coach who’s passionately devoted to bringing this young team out of the paddock and onto the turf.

The team members defined their goals for this season... 10 top-10 finishes and three medals at the national championships of 500 racers which were held at Duntroon Nordic Highlands in March. And they did it. Anna Geiger-Whitlock of Kitchener brought home a gold medal for the juvenile division (age 14-15). They won bronze medals in men’s and women’s relays. And young Erin Tribe was named the top Ontario midget (aged 12-13).

On top of that, this team is touted as the number one junior team in Canada, the number three overall team in the country and the number one overall team in Ontario.

And was it winning that makes it a success? It helps.

But before the winning comes the true spirit of co-opetition that takes a group of committed kids, gives them incredible physical challenges, adds high expectations, and blends their families into a tight knot of support. Whether it’s dad arriving at 6 am to help Mike Badham, team wax technician, produce the fastest skis in Canada. Or maybe it’s mom assists assistant coach James Cunningham with time trials and record keeping.

It’s an enormous financial commitment, too, and for a team so spread out across the province, it’s hard to hold cohesive fundraising events. So money is raised by the group in service at Hardwood, parking cars during events, finding the best possible equipment at the best price, and ensuring that their kids know that winning is secondary to ‘how’ you run the race.

There’s the commitment for up to $2500 worth of equipment and $2000 in racing fees and memberships and the cost of getting to six races every season... races that are held in Ottawa or Thunder Bay. And factor in training camps in British Columbia. See parents running warm up areas, finding good mountain biking equipment for summer training, paying for motel/hotel/b&b’s at race weekends. See parents doubling up on the drives, making the sacrifices that help put their kid on the race course.

When those yellow, green & blue uniforms hit the race courses come snowseason, it’s taken a whole community to get them there. Not only is it Hardwood Hills’ owners who help source the best possible equipment at the best price, but it’s the business community that supports the team with sponsorships, with cash, and with in kind provisions. Businesses like Invis Financial, Hot Tub Haven, Blacks Signs, Barrie RV, Computer Troubleshooters, Hitch House donate funds and equipment that help the season.

And when do the parents see the payoff? Not at the finish line, that’s for sure. It’s a bonus, but it’s when that racer turns to help a smaller kid who’s just starting out, or when a teenager grapples with a decision and comes out smiling over it... those are the payoffs.

What makes an elite team? Sounds like the Hardwood Hills Junior Team is truly elite, where it really counts.

And thanks to a whole community for helping it happen.

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