Renfrew County 2023 Winter Games: Strength Through Community

         Throughout the history of the world, sports have had the incredible ability of bringing people together. Even in the darkest of times, sports have been present in one form or another. I’m sure you may have heard about the famous football game played between British and German soldiers during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Though many still debate whether or not an actual football game took place, it is a fact that at the very least both sides put down their guns for a brief moment and picked up a football for a little kick around. The war which had been the cause of so much suffering and destruction was paused, and the thrill of sports took its place, for but a few brief, beautiful moments. Though our generation didn’t face the trials of the First World War, we have faced the struggles of a global pandemic. Covid-19 caused, and still causes, so much pain and suffering. We couldn’t see our families, we lost loved ones, and for the first time in our history we had no sports. Everything had stopped. We struggled, yet we endured, and we pushed forward. Eventually, we could visit our parents and grandparents again. We cried for the ones who were no longer with us. The clashing of iron echoed throughout the gyms and of course, sports came back. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the roar of the crowd filled the arenas and graced our TV screens. Every major sport organization has returned in full force, from the opulent cities to the smallest towns. Even here, in our beautiful Ottawa Valley, sports have made a triumphant return with Renfrew County hosting what is the biggest event in their history.

            The Ontario Winter Games have returned for the first time since the pandemic, and for the first time in its history, the games have come to Renfrew County. Hosting an incredible 22 events, including parasports, across 9 communities in the region from Petawawa to Arnprior. Sport organizations from across Ontario and even passed its borders have flocked to the Ottawa Valley. For many, the Winter Games will be their toughest challenge yet, and for many young athletes the games will be the highlight of their careers. The games are scheduled to run for two straight weekends, with their first weekend already completed, having ran from February 2nd to the 5th. Three-time Olympian, and Eganville native, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu is set as the ambassador for the games. The Games Organizing Committee, under the combined leadership of Cindy Burwell and Peter Emon, have overseen what has been a tremendously successful first weekend of the Winter Games. With some highlights including the U14 Ottawa Valley Titans taking the silver medal in men’s hockey. The previously featured McGuire Twins, Alexis and Jaidyn, winning bronze alongside their comrades in Team Black of the West Ottawa Ringette Association. However, the effort of all the athletes who are participating in the games cannot be understated. Everyone honored their teams, families, and their communities in what has been an action packed first weekend.  

            An event of this scale and magnitude has not been seen in the county’s history, and it has taken the combined effort of 16 committee chairs, the provincial sport organizations, and thousands of local volunteers to shoulder this incredible undertaking. Naturally, the games have had to overcome some obstacles. “There are a lot of moving parts with an event of this size.” Said Tina Peplinski, Renfrew County’s social media coordinator, “We are the largest county in Ontario. So, transportation has been a challenge. It’s so spread out but the communities that are hosting events have been really embracing it.” The weather also took a turn last weekend as it snowed on the night of the opening ceremonies. This did not deter the community, and the ceremonies went on as planned. Over 1,000 athletes marched into Ma-Te-Way Park to the cheers of the citizens of Renfrew as music played throughout the evening. The opening ceremony featured video appearances by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell. Renfrew-Nippissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski also appeared in person to help kick off the games and declare the games officially open. There was a second opening ceremony planned for February 9th at 6:30pm but was cancelled due to the weather concerns. School buses were also shut down throughout parts of Renfrew County. “Our first priority is the safety of the athletes, participants, families and volunteers,” said Renfrew County Warden Peter Emon, Chair of the Games Organizing Committee. The Special Events Committee are currently working on a plan to create a “unique opening ceremony experience” as stated in a press release Thursday morning. The second weekend for the games will run from February 9th to the 12th and will feature of plethora of events, including Renfrew County’s first ever biathlon, and parasports like para-alpine, para-cross country skiing, and sledge hockey.  

            Though much of the spotlight shines on the athletes and the events, we cannot forget the efforts of the thousands of volunteers that have helped support and ensure the success of the biggest event in Renfrew County’s rich sports history. “We could not do it without the volunteers.” Tina Peplinski said, “That’s a characteristic of the residents of Renfrew County. Whenever you put out a call, they really step up to help out wherever they can. We received so much positive feedback from participants and visitors from the first week. They just could not say enough great things about the volunteers.” Tina also spoke on the triumphant return of the Winter Games after they were delayed in 2021 due to the pandemic, “We’re happy to provide these venues and these opportunities for the athletes. Covid was a challenging time with not being able to play sports. For a lot of these athletes this if their life, and to take it away can be detrimental. I’m so glad we’re able to provide these venues and these events where they can showcase their skills and introduce people in our community and from around the province to some lesser known sports.” Opportunities to volunteer for the Winter Games are still available as the games proceed through the weekend.

            At the heart of the Renfrew County 2023 Winter Games is a set of values which are perfectly represented by the iconic Ontario trillium logo. The red stands for inspiration, the green stands for opportunity, and the blue stands for community. The people of Renfrew County embody these 3 tenets and it has built the foundation for a legacy that will last for many years to come. Tina speculated on what she thought the legacy of the Winter Games on Renfrew County would be, “I think the legacy will be the community really coming together to make this large event happen. When you see those green t-shirts around the venues, those are the people that are making things happen. They stepped up, and they are so important to the success of this event. I think the people needed something to bring them together and highlight how if we set our minds to something, we can make it happen.”           



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