When Bob White found a newspaper clipping from 1995 showing youth winners of the Hay River Ptub ski race that year included Brendan Green and Michael Gilday, two NWT-bred Olympic athletes currently in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics, he happily shared the article in the community.
“It’s exciting for the community and for people who volunteered and who were out there for them,” White said. “When you find out about their stories, you learn their early start played a role.”
White, a foundational member of the Hay River ski club, said watching the sparkle in a young skier’s eye before he or she launches from the start line is a great incentive to keep organizing ski races in the community. To know that some of the young athletes in those races have taken their sports all the way to the Olympics is even more rewarding, he said.
Speaking to The Journal from Sochi, Russia on Wednesday, less than a week before his debut Olympic short track speed skating race, Gilday recalled competing with Green as a young athlete growing up in the NWT.
“I remember specifically racing against him in the Hay River track and field meet and getting absolutely pummeled by him. He’s got to be six inches taller than me, so as a runner he was far superior to me,” he said with a laugh.
Racing in the Ptub against Green in his element, Gilday said that while he liked to think of himself as a pretty good skier, Green was the territorial benchmark for the youth racers. “I was always gunning for him, but he was always better than me,” he laughed.
Local racing, Gilday said, was “unequivocally” important to his success as an athlete. While there are certainly some drawbacks for youth pursuing sport in the NWT, such as long travel to races, he was quick to point out advantages as well.
“It’s true there is definitely more to overcome, but I think what we have in smaller community is that when people see young kids that are passionate, that are trying really hard to improve themselves, that are applying themselves as much as they can to anything, it could be a sport or art, anything, they see that and they want to help,” he said.
Gilday said he’s always had a huge team of volunteers supporting him in his athletic goals.
Even today, Gilday said he is backed by his community, which happens to be the entire territory. In his hometown of Yellowknife, the city proclaimed Feb. 10 Red Shirt Day and encouraged people to wear red in solidarity with Gilday’s Olympic debut on short track ice.
The hub of Brendan Green’s support is his hometown, Hay River, where Feb. 7 was declared Green Day. The town held a pancake breakfast on Saturday during the broadcast of Green’s first race.
Gilday’s message to aspiring athletes in the NWT: “The biggest thing is to be passionate about your sport,” he said. “If they are passionate, if they apply themselves, there are always going to be people there to help them get over boundaries.”