Canadian Olympians give back

ALISON KORN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

OTTAWA - Why do you love your sport? Was there ever a time when you wanted to quit? Were you ever worried that you wouldn't be chosen for Team Canada?

The students' questions, so forthright and no-nonsense, made the adults giggle and the athletes squirm. Olympic hockey captain Scott Niedermayer and Paralympic Nordic skier Colette Bourgonje, presenting at a small but spirited elementary school Thursday morning, answered honestly.

"There are definitely difficult times," Niedermayer acknowledged. "Maybe that thought does go through your head, that maybe I'm not going to win. But you have to keep working."

The visit to Thomas D'Arcy McGee Catholic School was the first item on a packed agenda that saw 123 Olympic and Paralympic athletes who competed in Vancouver descend on Ottawa Thursday for a warm welcome in the House of Commons, complete with O Canada and presents. After a group lunch at the swanky Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau, they were taken across the river to be feted on Parliament Hill, then boarded a VIA train to Montreal for a downtown parade Friday.

It's believed to be the first time that all Canadian athletes from a Games, both Olympic and Paralympic, had gathered in one place at one time. Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Henry Storgaard praised the group, which included 37 medallists and 37 coaches.

"I think Canadians will look back and realize we are a greater, stronger, prouder and more confident nation as a result of your accomplishments," Storgaard said. "We are so very proud of you."

Bourgonje, who won a bronze and silver medal in Vancouver in cross country skiing, skis using a sled and pushes with her arms only. She was an avid runner until a car accident at age 18, in 1980. She took up wheelchair racing and went on to become a physical education teacher, despite being told it wasn't possible.

"Attitude is everything and that's one of the things I tell my students when they whine about something I want them to do," Bourgonje said.

Also Thursday, the Canadian International Development Agency announced $17 million over three years for Right To Play. The humanitarian organization aims to improve the lives of children and youth in developing countries by using the power of sport and play, with athletes serving as role models. The funds will promote basic education, essential health awareness and disease prevention to children and youth living in disadvantaged areas in five African nations.

Olympic medallists in Montreal on Friday will be receiving their performances bonuses of $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for bronze and $10,000 for gold.

Niedermayer confirmed he will donate his prize to the charities supported by moguls medallists Jenn Heil and Alexandre Bilodeau. Heil is fund-raising for the Plan Canada program "Because I am a Girl" and Bilodeau for the Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres for Cerebral Palsy Research -- both have personally donated $25,000.

Other athletes aren't as flush. Bobsleigh gold medallist Kaillie Humphries said she's already spent that money -- three years ago, on a new sled.

"That was a loan from my dad," Humphries said.

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


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