More than 500 students and educators celebrated the spirit of the upcoming Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games on Wednesday, Feb. 25 with sports activities, cultural dances, and motivational speakers.
Hosted by the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), the Pan Am Celebration Day also welcomed students from the Halton and Dufferin-Peel school boards to The Hangar at Downsview Park.
“We wanted the community building aspect of the Games,” said Greg Rogers, TCDSB co-ordinator of student leadership programs, who also sits on the Pan Am Games community outreach committee. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
While the goal of the committee is to bring people to the Games, Rogers said it’s also to bring the Games to the people.
“That’s the purpose of today,” he noted, adding it’s also about celebrating both sports and multiculturalism. “And we wanted to make this day experiential.”
The student leaders and educators participated in activities throughout the day using resources from the Pan Am/Parapan Am Kids program, which included Fast Break Lacrosse to introduce lacrosse skills and Sitting Volleyball to give students the challenge of the parasport.
Kathleen Daniel, the TCDSB Pan Am Games representative and Grade 11 student from Notre Dame High School, said she hoped student leaders at the celebration day can bring back what they learned to their respective schools.
“This is a way to get them more involved,” added Hannah McGroarty, one of the two TCDSB student trustees who also attended and emceed the event, along with fellow Grade 12 student Christopher MacDonald.
“And it’s getting them to be inspired,” MacDonald said.
For inspiration, keynote speakers who were invited to address the students included 2012 Canadian Olympian boxer and Pan Am Games gold medallist Mary Spencer, Canadian paralympian swimmer Chelsey Gotell who’s won 12 Paralympic medals, and 2008 Canadian Olympian rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando who’s also won three Pan Am Games gold medals.
“I didn’t know sports was going to come into my life and change it,” said Orlando, 28, recalling her story growing up when she first tried ballet but found her true natural talent was in gymnastics. “I made a choice to train a certain number of hours and a certain number of days and live a different life.”
But she added her love for the sport was more than just about winning.
“It was about the journey and the experience and the person it made me into today,” said Orlando, who has since retired from gymnastics but was excited to have the Pan Am Games in Toronto. “I’m Canadian and this is my hometown and we’re hosting the world.”