With Canada hosting the Pan Am/Parapan Games and the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) Women’s World Cup this summer, 2015 has been proclaimed the year of sport in this country.
Taking a cue from the designation, the federal government is paying tribute to national athletes – past and present – who broke barriers and excelled in their disciplines. Their images are on the Canadian government’s Black History Month poster unveiled last week at St. Lawrence Hall.
Speaking on behalf of Canadian athletes at the launch, national hurdler Phylicia George thanked the federal government for recognizing sport’s benefits.
“Sports may seem like a frivolous pursuit or simply games,” said the sixth-place finisher in the 100-metres hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics. “However, this line of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. Sports can be used as a tool to get young people to places they never imagined and it teaches a number of vital skills that can help create well-grounded young people. We often think about the physical benefits it has to offer, but there is very much a mental aspect that cannot be overlooked. That is, the focus and discipline that is necessary for success in sport are all transferable in the business world.”
The 27-year-old George, who won the 100-metre hurdles and 200-metre events at the 2006 national school championships and was selected to represent Canada a few months later at the world junior championships in Beijing, where she failed to make it out of the first round in the 200-metre event, said becoming an Olympian was a major goal.
“I was not the high school superstar, but thankfully a coach at the University of Connecticut took a chance on me and offered me a full scholarship,” she said. “While my times decreased, I was far from world-class when I graduated.”
Graduating cum laude with a 3.9 grade point average, George – who lost her mother to breast cancer five years ago – moved back to Toronto and committed to training full-time.
“Everyone was encouraging me to hang up my spikes,” said the 2010 Big East Scholar-Athlete Sport Excellence Award winner. “However, in my heart I knew I hadn’t reached my full potential and I decided to follow my dream to become an Olympian.”
Under the tutelage of new coach Anthony McCleary, a two-time Canadian Coach of the Year, George beat 10-time national champion Perdita Felicien for the first time at Varsity Stadium and set a personal best 12.76 secs. on her way to clinching the inaugural National Track League (NTL) series in 2011.
The personal best was a major accomplishment since George’s best time in the event four years earlier was 13.39 secs.
George, who represented Canada at the 2011 world championship in South Korea and the Olympics in London a year later, told the audience that included federal Minister Jason Kenney and Senator Don Meredith that there’s no higher honor than representing one’s country.
“I felt so much pride competing with Canada across my chest,” she said. “But an even greater feeling was knowing that I had the support of a whole country behind me.”
George said competing in the Olympics was a once-in-lifetime experience.
“There were seven other girls from different countries, cultures and languages, she said. “However, we were united in a single goal to win a gold medal. Sport forms an invisible bond between people and gives us something to relate to despite our seeming difference. The 100-metre hurdler that lives in Japan probably understands my exhaustion after practices, the scrapes on my knees after falling and my burning desire for greatness better than even my own family members.
“There have been many times after a race that simply making eye contact with a competitor has spoken volumes without a single word been said. In its pure sense, sport is about competition. It’s about people coming together to bring out the best in themselves.”
A serious back injury suffered while playing basketball in high school prompted George to pursue track & field. She spent three seasons at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy High School before transferring to Mary Ward Catholic High School to complete her final year.
George plans to represent Canada at this summer’s Pan Am Games and next year’s Rio Olympics before attending medical school.