During last month’s Ironman race, Whistler and Pemberton residents came out in droves to volunteer a hand for the massive event.
At two aid stations along the triathlon’s bike course, it was youth soccer players from Mount Currie that were charged with providing much-needed support to the Ironman athletes.
These young volunteers belong to the Mount Currie Soccer Association. The league, a community effort run by Lil’Wat Nation for the past 25 years, is comprised of approximately 120 First Nations soccer players aged five to 20 years old.
“They come out of it enjoying being a part of something,” said Alphonse Wallace, Lil’Wat Nation’s recreation manager. “It’s rewarding to the kids. They recognize it after that they’re helping things run a lot smoother.”
But manning the aid stations provided more than just a rewarding day for the young athletes. Each of the two stations received a $1,500 volunteer grant from the Ironman Foundation for their efforts. The first grant was earned by the youth soccer players and a few parents who managed the first station, with funds going toward helping with travel and tournament entry costs throughout next year’s season. Games run from April to the end of September, though the majority of tournaments take place before July.
The second aid station was headed by a group of athletes that will be representing the Vancouver-Coastal zone at the upcoming B.C. Aboriginal Soccer Championships, taking place in Prince George Aug. 26 to 28. Their grant will go toward travel costs for this tournament.
The Vancouver-Coastal squads, comprised of players from Lil’Wat, Squamish and Sechelt First Nations, will be competing against five other regional teams to decide who will represent B.C. at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games. There are male and female divisions, with age categories limited to U15 and U17. The winning teams from each of the four divisions will earn the chance to attend the continental competition, set to take place in Toronto from July 16 to 23.
Tournaments like this are an example of the possibilities that organized youth sporting leagues, such as Mount Currie’s division, can offer to First Nations youth.
“Our soccer program in Mount Currie wouldn’t succeed without a lot of support from the community,” Wallace said. “I’ve been part of this for 25 years… The opportunity that these kids have got nowadays, they’ve got so much more opportunity compared to the past… opportunity to travel, to play, the opportunity to make new friendships.
“The big thing to look at is the opportunity to get out there and improve their skills as a team, but also as individuals,” he added. “(Soccer) is one of the sports that really brings... everybody together, all the volunteers supporting each other and helping each other out.”
The Mount Currie community is certainly hoping for a few goals by their hometown players at the upcoming provincial championships. Wallace said approximately 20 Mount Currie players will be representing the zone at provincials.
“We’ve got some really good players,” he said. “I think they have a good chance.”