Funding program good to see

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

Tonya Verbeek, a silver medallist in Athens, can tell you all about the post-Olympic experience.

"The day I got back from the Olympics, I went to stay at my parents' house," said Verbeek, a 27-year-old wrestler who trains in Thorold. "The phone started ringing with calls, mostly from the news media, first thing in the morning and didn't stop all day."

Flash forward to two weeks later.

"I went from that to working a bingo to raise funds for my wrestling club."

How's that for a comedown?

From standing on the podium in Athens, surrounded by the greatest athletes on the planet, to running cards for bingo players, some of whom, if you can forgive a slight generalization, may not be in the greatest physical condition.

"You, over there with the Olympic medal. Get me some popcorn, will ya?"

LOVE OUR OLYMPIANS

We love our Olympians to death -- the minute they mine gold, silver or bronze.

Oh, there are a few exceptions but for every Perdita Felicien, now inculcated in the U.S. college system, feted on magazine covers and coveted by the big shoe boys, there are dozens of Tonya Verbeeks, or Lori-Ann Muenzers, or Karen Cockburns, young people who not only overcome their rivals but our own profound indifference.

And so Verbeek was dragging her broken left ankle, injured during a practice spill last week, around the high-rent areas of Bay Street in the kickoff of the See You in Torino campaign.

See You in Torino, like it's predecessor, See You in Athens, is a fundraiser for the Canadian athletes who aren't making enough on the government's carding system to truly compete. That means, well, pretty well all of them. Seventy per cent of Canadian Olympic athletes live below the poverty line.

"It's just great to know that someone is backing you up," Verbeek said, "and See You in Torino is doing that. They're with the athletes from the beginning."

See You in Athens put $10,000 in Verbeek's pocket, money that led to her silver medal.

"I used it to get rid of some of the debts that I had. It meant that I didn't always have to rely on my club, the Niagara Wrestling Club, for money."

The catch, for See You in Torino, was the use of athletes from the Summer Games. The idea is to capitalize on the exposure provided by the Athens Games to induce Bay Street to continue to support the charity.

Canada, remember, finished 21st overall in Athens by virtue of three gold, six silvers and three bronze medals. There is no question about need.

"The winter athletes need the money and right now, we're not doing what they're doing, training 35 hours a week," said Oakville resident Adam van Koeverden, a gold- and bronze-medal winner in the canoe. "Three years from now, they'll help us."

Van Koeverden has received $12,000 from the See You In... organization and like Verbeek, credits the financial help for his medals.

"I used the money to eat, to eat good food. That's important when you're training and consuming 4,000 calories a day. Without the money I wouldn't have been able to go on some of the trips that helped me prepare for Athens. I went to Grand Prix events in Norway, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium. I could just go. I didn't have to worry about the money."

You can find out more about the fund at seeyouintorino.com or by phoning 1-866-YES-2004.

When you do, consider Tonya Verbeek. Bingo.


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