Simon's new focus

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Back in September, four of Canada's leading amateur sports athletes gathered around a boardroom table in the offices of the Toronto Sun and engaged in a lively debate about the state of amateur sports in Canada.

During the session triathlete Simon Whitfield -- who was there alongside kayaker Adam van Koeverden, gymnast Kyle Shewfelt and diver Alexandre Despatie -- spoke about how great it would be if at some point amateur athletes could be galvanized even more into the role of sports ambassadors, an army in sneakers going out to schools and into the community, speaking to kids, passing on to them the lessons of sportsmanship, physical fitness, the challenges and payoffs in setting goals for oneself.

That was the talk. Whitfield was in Toronto Thursday to show off the walk.

Whitfield and ironman champ Jasper Blake, and former Canadian national triathlon team member Stefan Timms, now a Toronto lawyer, are heading up the Triahtlonschool team - which at this point includes three of the best triathlete prospects in Canada, now training as a group in B.C., Hamilton's Colin Jenkins, Oakville's Kyle Jones and Edmonton's Paul Tichelaar. The Triathlonschool team will mentor the three athletes as they make their way up the athletic ladder. All three are junior national champions.

Triathlonschool members are also there to carry the flag into schools, the grassroots sports community, corporate boardrooms, proponents of what Whitfield says is a new sports system model that's founded on accountability.

"I sat there at the Commonwealth Games press conference, and a couple of athletes said I just need more funding, I'm broke, you gotta give me more, and I'm thinking, we can't approach it this way, we can't just say give me more," Whitfield said.

"I always use the example of the single mother in B.C. who had her childcare funds cut. She's saying give me money too, and I'm saying as a taxpayer, yeah, give to her first."

Whitfield and his group are hoping that Triathlonschool opens eyes among corporate Canadians and government leaders. Make Canadians taxpayers, or corporate leaders, feel they're getting more value for their investment dollars.

Whitfield hopes people see tangibility, that return on investment in amateur athletes in Canada -- be it corporate or government money --goes beyond the medal podium. That's a nice return every two years, a Whitfield or a Van Koeverden or a Shewfelt or a Lori-Ann Muenzer, or our winter athletes, holding their medals, draped in the Canadian flag, but there's plenty room for more.

It's about a change in perception of athletes and athlete funding. It's about hitting head-on the very serious issue of child obesity. What's the dollar value in pushing a kid in the direction of a healthier lifestyle, for example?

Whitfield's looking to grow the program, so these triathletes and others can get outside their immediate communities and get in touch with average Canadians. Back in September, he talked about how cool it would be to get a bus and go around Canada with a bunch of athletes.

Well, it ain't a bus yet, more like a smaller SUV, but he's on the road, and he wants Canadians to know about it. Hopefully, he says, other amateur sports groups soon emulate the triathlete model.

"That talk (at the Sun) was great," said Whitfield. "Now we're doing something about it."

Go to www.triathlonschool.com for more information.

NATIONAL BASEBALL TEAM

Six baseball teams will be vying to become Canada's best at the Women's National Invitational Championship at two diamonds in Mississauga from June 30-July 3.

Two squads from Ontario will compete against teams from Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and Atlantic Canada in the tournament. The opening ceremonies will take place at River Grove Park at 6 p.m. on Friday.

The bronze medal game will be held at the same site at noon on Sunday, while the national title will be determined on that field three hours later. A full schedule is available at www.baseballontario.com.

The women's national team will be selected from players competing in the tournament. That crew, managed by Andre Lachance, will head to Havana, Cuba for a five-game exhibition series against the Cuban women's national team from July 5-12.


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