Tools of their trade

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

Even the boys who insisted they only liked soccer got in on the ribbon action.

That was the favourite part for Olympic rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando yesterday as she shared the tools of her ultra-feminine sport -- ribbon, clubs, ball and rope -- with youngsters at the KidsCAN school day.

"The boys wanted to try the ribbon so badly, they were so in to it," the Toronto native said with a laugh. "We don't realize how exciting this is for kids (to meet an athlete). This would've blown me away at that age."

Jayden Kelly, 12, was one of those boys. A polite student who likes to run the 100-metres, Kelly was among the group picked from his school to join 600-plus students from Mississauga Catholic schools at the Hershey SportZone Complex yesterday morning for the KidsCAN school day.

On hand were 40 Olympic, Paralympic and national team athletes eager to show kids a variety of sports, including trampoline, blind running, goalball, boxing and orienteering.

"Most of the stuff I tried today I had never heard of," said Kelly, who's in Grade 7. "It was cool. I had a lot of fun."

This is the third consecutive year that AthletesCAN has held a kids' day in conjunction with their annual forum. Since its inception in 1992, AthletesCAN has been the voice of Canadian athletes and has worked toward a fairer and more responsive sport system. Last year the association's gathering was in Whitehorse The first year they reached out to kids was in Fredericton, N.B., in 2006.

"It's pretty phenomenal, because basically all we say is: 'We provide the athletes and you guys have to create the day,' " said Jasmine Northcott, executive director of AthletesCAN. "The communities are keen and they grab hold of it."

A year in the making, local support for the kids' day concept came from the Hershey Centre, the Peel District School Board, Dufferin-Peel District Catholic School Board, the City of Mississauga, and Tourism Toronto.

Yesterday afternoon, the 40 national team athletes left the Hershey Centre and fanned out in groups across Mississauga to packed gymnasiums in schools in the Peel District School Board to share their experiences and promote physical activity. The ambitious schedule suffered a hiccup, however. Of the nine schools scheduled to host athlete speakers, two had nobody show up because of a mixup with directions. Athletes will make up for it by visiting affected schools Friday or in the future.

By day's end, about 4,000 students had interacted with 40 national amateur athletes, in what was quite possibly the largest public speaking and inspirational event of its kind.

"I can't say for sure, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone else who has done anything like that recently," Northcott said. "Sure, we'll take that mantle."

The boys who so strongly twirled Orlando's green and blue ribbons would surely agree -- this was a first.

A DOCUMENTARY WITH GRIT

A candid new documentary, Sledhead, which features members of the Canadian sledge hockey team, premieres tomorrow on CTV at 7 p.m.

Sledhead follows the team as it prepares to defend its world championship gold medal after winning gold at the 2006 Paralympic Games in Torino. The story, like the men who play the sport, is hard-hitting and dramatic, offering an up-close, gritty look at a competitive season, and the personal stories of the athletes who are determined to win at all costs.

As B.C. filmmakers David McIlvride and Alison Love uncover the rivalries among players and teams, they also reveal the drama of the players' day-to-day personal lives. Smashing stereotypes about people with disabilities, it's a documentary about a remarkable team of athletes, and even more remarkable men. Watch to see what happened just before the worlds.


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