I have always been a bit of a softy when it comes to watching athletes compete at the highest levels. I get caught up in the stories of their hard work and perseverance, and the challenges they overcome as they try to reach the top. I also feel incredibly proud watching them represent Canada with dignity and enthusiasm.
I find myself crying emotional happy tears as I watch their journeys unfold. Then when it all wraps up, I can’t wait for the next Olympics, Commonwealth Games or World Championships to see athletes compete in sports that I generally don’t know anything about, but still enjoy watching.
The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics were different. I was watching the games through a very different lens, as a fan and a proud Canadian, but also as a family member of an athlete making her first appearance in the Olympics.
Shallon Olsen, who just turned 16 years old in July, was the youngest athlete of the 314 who made up Team Canada. Born to my brother Tony, a Calgarian, and his wife Jayne – along with their son Chas – they call Vancouver home. That’s where the spark was lit in a tiny little pixie of a girl who excelled in gymnastics and dance from a young age.
Shallon’s skill was evident early on, but so was her steely determination. It’s one of the reasons you will often hear gymnastics commentators remark on her mental toughness when she goes for those very scary-looking vaults with a high degree of difficulty. She has always been agile and brave; two natural and important traits for gymnasts who try some seemingly impossible moves at times.
But Shallon’s teeny-tiny frame – which she would flip around all over the living room furniture or in the backyard – suddenly grew. She sprouted seven inches in just two years, forcing the young athlete to revamp her routines as she learned to move her new body with power and grace.
With hard work, her trademark determination, and support from her coaches and family, Shallon successfully worked her way back to the top levels of performance, culminating in a spot on Canada’s Olympic women’s gymnastics team bound for Rio de Janeiro.
My family has watched Shallon along the way, hosting a viewing party as we watched her in the vault final.
We were also with her in Edmonton this past June for one of the final competitions that would determine who would make the Olympic team.
It was a nail-biter, but Shallon stayed calm and did well. Still, she showed us she was just a normal teen, when right after the competition she was more interested in going to West Edmonton Mall’s waterpark with her cousins and trying one of those heart-stopping waterslides.
I watched from the sidelines. She didn’t get her guts from her auntie Linda.
Shallon also came by our Global News studio in Calgary during a visit last summer, perhaps showing a little interest as a future news anchor?
Well, that path just may have to wait a bit longer, as Shallon has much more pressing things to consider.
Will she be back and compete for Canada in the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan?
As she told me in our interview, she just might show up there. And if she does, I expect a lot of Canadians might be crying those emotional happy tears, too, as we celebrate a young athlete’s determination to do their best and make our country proud.