Voices of experience

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:06 AM ET

Two-time Olympian Rhiannon Leier has a simple piece of advice for the Manitoba athletes preparing for this summer's Canada Games.

Don't worry about the small stuff and in the end it's all small stuff.

Anything can be a distraction. The bus could be late. The mattress in your room might not be as comfortable as your bed back home.

You just have to be prepared to roll with the punches.

"Especially for the young athletes who are entered a multi-sport event for the first time, they need to prepare for things going wrong," said the former national team swimmer, who was named one of two honorary team captains for Team Manitoba's 2005 Canada Summer Games team earlier this week.

"That's going to happen and you need to be prepared for it."

Leier and Chicago Blackhawks 2004 first round draft pick Cam Barker will serve as honourary team captains.

The pair will use their national and international experience to help prepare and motivate Manitoba's 359 athletes for the Canada Games, Aug. 5-20 in Regina.

EXPERIENCE THE EVENT

"(The athletes need to remember) To enjoy it," said Leier, who swam at the 1993 Canada Games in Kamloops, B.C. "You're not just there to compete. You're there to experience the event."

"The biggest thing is to stay focussed and remember what you're there for," added Barker, captain for Manitoba's hockey team at the 2003 Canada Winter Games in Bathurst, N.B.

The Canada Summer Games is a national multi-sport competition for Canadian youth held every four years. Athletes from 10 provinces and three territories will compete in 16 sports in Regina.

For athletes like Leier and Barker, the Canada Games can serve as a springboard to bigger and better things.

Leier, 28, went on to represent Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games, 2002 Commonwealth Games and the World Championships. But she still remembers fondly her experience as a 15-year-old swimmer at the 1993 Canada Games.

It was her first multi-sport competition and she had just moved to Manitoba from Saskatchewan. But with the pep rallies and cheering on the other Manitoba athletes, she said she quickly began to feel like a member of Team Manitoba.

"You feel like part of a whole team instead of just a collection of sports," said Leier, who finished fourth in the 100-metre breaststroke.

The experience even helped prepare Leier for the Olympics where problems can arise to distract you.

"You expect it to be perfect (at the Olympics)," said Leier. "But things happen."

Barker went on to help the Medicine Hat Tigers to the 2004 Memorial Cup and was a member of the 2005 Team Canada World Junior Hockey Championship team. He was selected third overall in the 2004 NHL draft.

But hockey people still talk about the 2003 Canada Games round-robin game between Manitoba and Nova Scotia where the defenceman was assigned the task of shutting down star-in-the-making Sidney Crosby. While Nova Scotia won in overtime, Barker made an impact.

"Playing in Western Canada, you don't always get a chance to see other players from other parts of the country," said Barker. "Being able to see where you're at against the rest of the country is huge."


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