1st week of 2022 Canada Games already the 'best Games ever' for Team N.L.

·4 min read
Declan Walsh says he didn't expect to win the True Sport Award at the 2022 Canada Summer Games. (Team Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Declan Walsh says he didn't expect to win the True Sport Award at the 2022 Canada Summer Games. (Team Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)

With the second week of the 2022 Canada Summer Games just underway in Niagara, Ont., Gary Martin, the chef de mission for Team Newfoundland and Labrador is already calling the competition the province's "best Games ever."

Martin said para swimmer Nathan Luscombe of Grand Falls-Windsor started off on the right track on Day 1, earning Newfoundland and Labrador's first medal: a bronze in the 400-metre freestyle.

There have been other high points in the first week: Jaida Lee, 16, who became the first female to play the men's game at the Canada Games, threw the first pitch last weekend at a Toronto Blue Jays game.

And then there's tennis player Declan Walsh.

Being kind and being respectful towards everyone, it's just so important. Not only in sport, but just in life in general. - Declan Walsh

Out of about 2,500 athletes, the 14-year-old won the inaugural Pat Lechelt True Sport Award.

The award commemorates a former Alberta chef de mission who was involved the Games from 1989 to 2019 and who died suddenly in 2020.

The award is given to a young athlete who demonstrates the principles of sportsmanship, including fair play, respect,  and competitiveness.

Submitted by Gary Martin
Submitted by Gary Martin

"It was quite a shock to me, honestly," Walsh said Tuesday.

Walsh says he doesn't know who nominated him for the award, but said respecting opponents, umpires and volunteers is a priority for him.

"Being kind and being respectful towards everyone, it's just so important. Not only in sport, but just in life in general," said Walsh.

While Walsh was shocked, Martin said the young tennis player deserved the award.

Not only is Walsh ranked as one of the top 10 tennis players in the country in his age group, said Martin, but he also knows how to give back to sport: he raises money for kids who can't afford to play tennis and during a hot day at the Games gave water to Canada Games volunteers who didn't have any.

"It's an unbelievable honour for Declan to get this," said Martin. "I almost cried. It was that much excitement.… It's just been one positive day after another."

Team Newfoundland and Labrador
Team Newfoundland and Labrador

Walsh, who won five singles matches and lost one doubles match, said he's happy with his performance at the Games.

While he's not sure where the sport may take him in the future, he is eyeing college scholarships in the United States — and focusing on his love of the game.

"I'm just enjoying tennis right now.… I love playing tournaments. I love travelling around meeting all these new people and making all these new experiences," said the Grade 9 student.

Swimmers responsible for N.L.'s medal count

So far swimmers on Team N.L. have made a big splash, securing all eight of the province's medals at the Games so far.

After Luscombe picked up the first hardware with his 400-metre freestyle bronze, he also earned a silver in the 50-metre freestyle.

Chris Weeks of St. John's collected three medals: silvers in the 50-metre and 100-metre male freestyles, and a gold in the 50-metre butterfly.

Weeks won Team N.L.'s first gold medal in swimming since 1993 and also set new provincial records for the 15-to-17 age range in open swimming.

Thomas Pelley of Paradise won silver and bronze in the Special Olympics 50-metre freestyle and 100-metre backstroke. respectively.

Team Newfoundland and Labrador
Team Newfoundland and Labrador

Walsh says Team N.L.'s performance is outpacing the last Games, held in Winnipeg in 2017.

"We've moved up, which is phenomenal. As well, we've made improvements," said Martin.

Martin said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the games, which were originally supposed to start in 2021.

He said the delay meant many athletes had more time to train and get prepared, leaving many champing at the bit to compete.

"They have been such good ambassadors for our province in terms of their behaviour, their performance," Martin said.

During Week 2, the province's athletes will compete in soccer, softball, cycling, diving, golf, sailing, volleyball, canoe and kayak, lacrosse and athletics.

According to a press release from the provincial government's Recreation Department, about 400 athletes, coaches, managers and staff are partaking in the games, with 22 teams playing 17 sports.

Newfoundland and Labrador will host the next Canada Summer Games in 2025.

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