The Canada Games are well underway in Winnipeg — with more than 250 Island athletes competing.
Jared Connaughton, Katie Baker, Shannon MacAulay and Jared Murphy have all been to the Games in past years. They spoke about what it taught them about competition and themselves, and how it helped them later in life.
‘Such a crazy experience’
All of the athletes spoke of how much they enjoyed their experience at the Canada Games, but for some it went beyond having a good time.
Murphy competed in soccer at the 2009 Canada Games as an 18-year-old and said it was an unforgettable experience.
“If you asked a lot of the athletes at that Games if they would trade it for a whole lot, they probably wouldn’t,” he said.
Baker, competing in field hockey at her first Games as a 17-year-old, was struck by the size of the event.
“It was such a crazy experience because it’s a major games event, and so it’s basically like a miniature Olympics,” she said.
“It was very cool.”
‘A wonderful experience’
Connaughton competed at two Canada Games as a sprinter, the first when he was just 16.
He said that representing the smallest province at the Games was a chance that he still cherishes.
“We don’t have an opportunity very often to sort of be on the national stage, it’s kind of the reality that we face a lot of the time,” said Connaughton.
“To be able to represent your province was a wonderful experience.”
‘I got my butt kicked there in London, but it was sort of a turning point for me.’
– Jared Connaughton
MacAulay, who also represented P.E.I. as a 16-year-old playing hockey at the 2011 Games, said the time between each Canada Games made it even more special.
“It’s such a neat experience and it only comes around every four years,” she said.
“So you’re very lucky and fortunate to get to experience it.”
‘Pushed me to my limits’
For several athletes their experience at the Canada Games deepened their desire to compete.
“It definitely kind of pushed me to my limits even further,” said MacAulay.
“After playing in Canada Games it kind of made me realize that’s really what I want.”
Connaughton had a similar experience after competing in London, Ont. in 2001 at his first Games.
“It was definitely one of those experiences where age and experience reared its ugly face, I got my butt kicked there in London, but it was sort of a turning point for me,” he said.
“Having that experience … being sort of exposed as a spectator, that wasn’t a feeling that I wanted to have again.”
“I really bared down and I trained really hard.”
Baker said that her first opportunity to represent the Island raised her personal expectations and gave a glimpse of what a career in professional athletics might be like.
“I learned a little bit about the professional side of sport,” she said.
“It was my first major games and you get to play against the best players in the country. And you kind of have access to the things that athletes have access to when they’re at a higher level of sport.”
The athletes had similar words of wisdom and support for the Island’s representatives in Winnipeg right now.
“Enjoy the experience,” said Murphy.
“Now is the time to go and have fun, and let all that preparation sort of unfold during the week … do your best, and you know the rest will look after itself.”
“Really just embrace it, every moment,” said MacAulay.
“If you’re too completely dialled and focused in on just your own success in the sport you might not have as much fun or … learn as much.”
‘Use this as fuel’
Baker said that for her, enjoying the Games is important but so is making sure that you’re prepared to be the best you can be.
“Get the rest you need … don’t go do to much when you’re competing,” she said.
“Having a balance between experiencing the Games and also taking care of your own performance.”
Connaughton said that getting to the Games is an important first step, but not to take the responsibility of representing your province lightly.
‘You take all the stuff that you learned from it and use it for the rest of your life.’
– Jared Murphy
“It’s not just about showing up,” he said.
“It’s about an opportunity to compete nationally against some future Olympians and it’s an opportunity to really evaluate whether or not you’re putting in the work that it’s going to take to compete at that level.”
“It changed my perspective on preparation, and I urge those athletes that see themselves competing beyond this event to use this as fuel, to use this as motivation to say ‘I like doing this, I enjoy competing, and I want to keep doing this.'”
“Despite whatever position you finish, there’s still lots left after the Canada Games.”
Where they are now?
After competing in 2001, Connaughton became the Canadian junior champion, and parlayed that success into a scholarship at the University of Texas.
After his sophomore year in Texas, he represented P.E.I. again at the 2005 Games and came away with two gold medals in the 100 and 200 metre races.
He’s now the head coach of track and field at Fort Worth Country Day.
Baker competed in 2001 and 2005, the latter being the last Canada Games to feature field hockey.
She went on to play for the Canadian national team, becoming team captain until her retirement in 2012.
Baker now lives in Vancouver and works for an environmental consulting firm.
After competing in the 2009 Games Murphy went on to play for UPEI and now works for Sport PEI.
He said that his experience as a player gives him a perspective that helps him at work now.
“Everybody that’s been in sport could probably say the same thing, that you take all the stuff that you learned from it and use it for the rest of your life,” he said.
MacAulay played NCAA hockey on a scholarship at Clarkson University and she also represented Canada as part of the under-18 and under-22 teams.
She now works as a strength and conditioning coach and actually trained some of the athletes representing P.E.I. in Winnipeg now.
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