Sport for Life’s Drew Mitchell with Mandi Graham, TJ Grabowiecki, and Mandi Cote of Engage Sport North and Richard Way, CEO of Sport for Life

Exciting things are happening up in northern BC.

This past month, Sport for Life CEO Richard Way traveled north alongside Senior Director of Physical Literacy Drew Mitchell to see firsthand the progress being made by the Physical Literacy for Communities (PL4C) initiative in places such as Prince George, Smithers, 100 Mile House and Telkwa.

“We’ve been hearing about all the great work being done by Engage Sport North (ESN) to mobilize PL4C, and we thought it was a great opportunity to see all they’ve accomplished so far while also hearing about their plans and dreams for the future,” said Way.

“We were fortunate to be the beneficiaries of some marvelous northern hospitality, and we had a great time getting to know our northern partners.”

Seeing PL4C progress firsthand

Way and Mitchell were kept busy from the moment their plane touched down, touring all across the north alongside their partners from ESN and visiting key locations impacted by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s PL4C initiative.

“It was a warm welcome on a chilly day as we arrived at Prince George’s airport to greetings from Mandi Graham, the CEO of ESN. From the airport, we made our way up to the Northern Sport Centre, a tremendous facility on the grounds of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC),” said Way.

“We arrived to a throng of kids who were in the process of being signed up for a physical literacy development program delivered by ESN which will be part of a research project by UNBC’s Dr. Chelsea Pelletier. Later we would see Pelletier’s team in action as they observed the physical literacy of the kids in a pre-assessment as part of the research project associated with the PL4C initiative. It will be interesting to see the impact of the eight-week program.”

That was followed by a day of experiencing the great outdoors from the comfort of a vehicle, marveling at the wealth of wilderness situated between communities.

“The next morning, we were up early, heading west into the vastness of northern B.C. It was our first taste of the distances the ESN team is working within, after driving for two hours. We took a break as Mandi pointed north and explained there were six hours of gravel road between us and one of their PL4C communities, Takla Nation,” he said. 

“After a quick break, we jumped back in the truck and continued west for another four hours, arriving in the beautiful Bulkley Valley and the town of Smithers. We went to the high school to connect with the Canadian sports school being operated there. It was great to see the beautiful facility training room that ESN and the district had set up for the talented young student-athletes in the north. It was great to meet the enthusiastic sport school coordinator and some athletes. It was great to see these opportunities for athletes in the north.”

Once they finished their tour of those facilities, the duo went to see what was happening in local schools.

“From there it was over to the recently built Walnut Park Elementary School, which was designed with developing physical literacy in mind. We bumped into associate superintendent, Matthew Monkman, the champion of developing physical literacy in School District 54, who offered to tour us through the new jewel and was bubbling with pride regarding the modifications they had made to create a beautiful learning environment, both intellectually and physically. There was hopscotch in the hallway, painted hands on the wall, and a larger than normal gym so it could also be  used for the community as well as  cross-country skis at the door ready for action.”

Heartened by what they’d seen so far, Way and Mitchell continued to the next stop on their itinerary.

“We continued to head west, and about an hour and a half into the drive the forests that surrounded us changed to a coastal rainforest as we headed down the Skeena River into the Hazeltons. We’ve had a partner table in New Hazelton now for about four years, but there is nothing that could’ve prepared us for the stunning beauty of the Spirit North facility with its hockey rink, basketball court, training rooms, gym, and multipurpose room. One could see it was the heart of the Hazeltons,” he said. 

“We arrived in the late afternoon to catch an older adult fitness program and a bunch of youth playing basketball in the gym at the time. It wasn’t so busy so we got to have a chat with Peter Newbery, the visionary who was a catalyst for the facility. As we chatted, the pride and passion overflowed as the facility started to fill up with participants of all ages, shapes and sizes flowing through the door to the multiple programs that we’re starting up for after-school programming.”

They were very impressed with what they heard, and what they saw happening before their eyes.

 “It allowed us to see firsthand the great work of ESN in partnership with the community. The smiling, jumping, running, spinning and skating collection of youth and kids clearly portrayed the health and wellness that we aspire to through the PL4C initiative. As we left, the west coast rain didn’t disappoint us as we drove two hours back east to lessen the length of the drive for the next day,” he said.

“After a lovely evening in Telkwa, just outside of Smithers at a very unique Airbnb, we set out before the early morning light, heading back east towards Prince George. After the six hours it took to return, we then headed south for another four hours to arrive in 100 Mile House in time to see a new program created by the partner table and ESN. The program is for youth basketball and it was such fun to see over 40 enthusiastic kids chaotically dribbling balls around the gym. There were a ton of smiles and a lot of action. This is a new program for youth.”

As it turned out, their timing was perfect to attend the newly formed PL4C partner table and hear for themselves what the community had planned.

“It was wonderful and senior leaders from the community filed in, including a mayor and council person, and chair of the regional district along with a retired mayor who is a vibrant volunteer. For two hours the participants in the meeting had no rest as they worked feverishly to complete an analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. They then moved on to actions they would recommend across the health, recreation, education and sport sectors. After filling multiple flip charts, the group then moved on to discuss privatization, which left the group with a good sense of the many actions that could potentially move the community forward.”

That brought them to the tail end of the trip, and back to the ESN offices. 

“The next morning the crew was off back to George Prince George, where we would arrive in time for a presentation by ESN. Richard talked about Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity, along with ESN technical staff providing information on strength and conditioning, aerobic training and motivation and mindset. That was completed with 30 athletes, parents and other community members in attendance,” he said.

“After that, the only thing remaining was to say goodbye and catch our 5 a.m. flights back south, full of thoughts about when we can come back to travel to other northern locations and see more of the amazing milestones being achieved in communities large and small.”

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