PanAmania comes to York Region
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We have never seen anything like this.
The Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, coming to the Toronto region this summer, are of a size and scope that will blow us away, as the best athletes in the Western Hemisphere come here to compete and the world's eyes are turned on us.
And as the days count down, the excitement is palpable, not least in York Region, which is hosting several key events in Markham.
These games will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Canada with more athletes coming here – 7,600 in total – than came to the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
With 41 nations from the Americas and the Caribbean taking part, you can expect a carnival atmosphere everywhere you look, as communities celebrate not only the Games themselves but the cultural diversity that those nations represent.
And the cultural diversity of this region will also be on display, not just for the 250,000 expected visitors, but as people tune in from around the world to watch the Games.
“It is a huge opportunity for this region to be showcased in a way we don't normally have,” explains Teddy Katz, chief spokesperson for Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games.
Markham's Mayor Frank Scarpitti is also excited about the spotlight the Games will shine on this corner of the region. “It's an incredible opportunity for Markham to be an official city for the Games. We'll host thousands of international athletes and visitors, showcase the strengths of our city and engage residents in world-class sport and cultural events,” he says.
The brand new 147,000-sq.ft. multi-purpose Atos Markham Pan Am Centre, located at Highway 407 and Kennedy in the heart of the new downtown, will be the venue for badminton, table tennis and water polo during the Pan Am Games and wheelchair table tennis during the Parapan Am Games, while Angus Glen Golf Course is home to the golf.
The badminton in particular is expected to be a huge draw, with hometown hero Michelle Li not only vying for gold here, but hopefully paving the way for a spot on the podium at the Rio Olympics next year.
The Pan Am Games are always held the year before the Summer Olympics and, for many athletes, offer an their opportunity to qualify for Rio in 2016. Dubbed “the Peoples Games” to reflect the fact that they are hosted within communities where people live and work, they offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people to see their athletic heroes up close and follow them on their journey to the Olympics.
Tickets for some events have been selling fast, but with 51 different sports on offer at the Pan Am Games, and 15 at the Parapan Games, there is still plenty of opportunity to get out and support the athletes. In particular, Katz urges people to attend some Parapan events.
“When you experience these sports and see the athleticism involved, you will be left with a different feeling about how you may define sport,” he says, adding that they hope that these games will bring Parapan sport to a new level, as London did for the Paralympics.
Canada is bringing more than 700 athletes to the Games, its biggest team ever, so there will be a lot of Canadian pride on display. But because of this region's diversity, Katz says they are expecting the same fun atmosphere as happens during the World Cup of Soccer, with each participating nation having its own cheering section. “We are going to see people celebrating their pride in being Canadian but also their pride in their heritage,” he says.
Alongside the Games, a 35-day long arts and culture festival, Panamania, intends to celebrate that diversity and ignite the spirit of arts and culture in the region with local events, music, and performances from established and emerging artists from the Americas and the Caribbean. “Between the sporting spectacle and the arts and culture festival, I don't think it is something that people are going to want to miss,” says Katz
And Markham is throwing itself into the party, hosting performers, running contests and culturally linked events and putting on a free multicultural street festival, Markham Global Fest, right outside the Markham Pan Am Centre for the duration of the games.
“Even if you don't have a ticket for the sport competitions, everyone is invited to attend and enjoy the celebration site,” says Scarpitti.
Like all Olympic and Pan Am Games, part of the excitement is the pre-games torch relay, giving people an opportunity to share in the spirit of the Games first hand. The Pan Am torch will be lit in Mexico and travel to 130 communities across Canada, many of them in York Region, before being carried into the opening ceremony on July 10. (See sidebar for a celebration site near you.)
 “The torch relay really takes the Games to the communities,” explains Katz, “especially those that aren't hosting any sport. It gives people a sense that the Games are really coming, and if they haven't gotten excited up to that point, that is when they start.”
With a theme of Ignite the Spirit, Games organizers want everyone to feel the energy and buzz of such a huge multi-sport event coming to town. But the Games also offer the chance to ignite a whole new generation in a love of sport.
“These Games will give young kids new heroes, new role models and incredible new venues that they will have the opportunity to use for many years to come,” says Katz.

Join the action
• Tickets can be purchased through the official Pan Am/Parapan Am website: toronto2015.org.
Tickets cost between $20 and $45, with senior and youth discounts. All venues are accessible. Support person tickets offered at a discount when booking accessible seating.
• Register to volunteer at markham.ca or toronto2015.org/volunteer. (Organizers have already had an amazing response and many spots are filled, but say the doors are always open.)
• Follow the torch relay in your area and go to the celebration centres.
• Attend any of the free cultural events in your area; check markham.ca or yorkscene.com
for information.


Local athletes

Phylicia George
Hometown: Markham
Event: 100-metre hurdles
Career highlights:
Reaching the finals
“2011 was a breakout year for me. It was my first year as a professional athlete and I was a finalist at the World Championships finishing seventh. In 2012, I made my first Olympic team, where I also qualified for the finals, finishing sixth.”
At Toronto 2015:
“I feel like my chances are great at the Games this year. I've competed at the highest level of competition in track and field and had success. My training has been going great this year. I've laid a really good foundation early in the year and I'm really fit right now. I'm a competitor at heart and great competition has always brought out the best of me.”

Michelle Li
Hometown: Markham
Event: singles badminton
Career highlights:
Commonwealth Games
“At the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008, I made it to the finals, that would be my first [highlight] and the most recent would be the Commonwealth Games last year in Glasgow. It was a big event and I won the gold medal.” 
At Toronto 2015:
“I think [my chances] are pretty good. All my opponents will be people I have been playing with for the last couple of years, so we're pretty familiar with everyone's style. We play each other quite often. I won the last Pan Am Games so I'm confident I can do it again.”

Sarah Wells
Hometown: Unionville
Event: 400-metre hurdles
Career highlights:
Qualifying for the 2012 Olympics
“I came off an injury before the Games and that season was a longshot for me to make it. I ended up winning the Olympic trials and being named to the Canadian Olympic team. That was a highlight for me because it seemed unfathomable at the beginning of the year.”
Competing in London
“I had a British athlete in my semi-final and the Olympics were being held in the U.K. so the crowd was cheering for them and I remember coming around the corner and hearing 80,000 people rise to their feet. The noise was incredible. That's why I am so excited about the opportunity here in Toronto for the Pan Am Games because this time when I come around the corner and I hear that incredible noise of everyone on their feet, I'll know it's the Canadians cheering for me.”
At Toronto 2015:
“I think about my chances almost every day. The qualification period [for the Games] ends June 14 and whoever has the top two fastest times in Canada for the event, those are the two that will compete at the Pan Am Games. There are very talented athletes in Canada and they aren't going to make it easy for me and I'm not going to make it easy for them, but that's what breeds competition.”

Justyn Warner
Hometown:Markham
Events:100-metre dash, 4x100 relay
Career highlights
Bronze medal at Worlds
“In 2013, I was a world bronze medalist at the World Championships. [At the Olympics] in 2012, I won a bronze medal with the relay team, but we got disqualified and I actually lost the medal. So 2013 was basically the redemption for us. But it wasn't an Olympic medal, so in 2016 one of my big goals is to go to Rio and get my medal back.”
At Toronto 2015
“My chances will be pretty good. So far this season, I'm running really well. In the indoor season for 2015, I finished ranked 19th in the world, which is a good indication of where my outdoor times could be. All is looking good for outdoors this year. I just need to stay healthy and stay focused.”

Sarah Wells
Hometown: Unionville
Event: 400-metre hurdles
Career highlights:
Qualifying for the 2012 Olympics
“I came off an injury before the Games and that season was a longshot for me to make it. I ended up winning the Olympic trials and being named to the Canadian Olympic team. That was a highlight for me because it seemed unfathomable at the beginning of the year.”
Competing in London
“I had a British athlete in my semi-final and the Olympics were being held in the U.K. so the crowd was cheering for them and I remember coming around the corner and hearing 80,000 people rise to their feet. The noise was incredible. That's why I am so excited about the opportunity here in Toronto for the Pan Am Games because this time when I come around the corner and I hear that incredible noise of everyone on their feet, I'll know it's the Canadians cheering for me.”
At Toronto 2015:
“I think about my chances almost every day. The qualification period [for the Games] ends June 14 and whoever has the top two fastest times in Canada for the event, those are the two that will compete at the Pan Am Games. There are very talented athletes in Canada and they aren't going to make it easy for me and I'm not going to make it easy for them, but that's what breeds competition.”

Karen Cockburn
Hometown: Stouffville
Event: Individual trampoline
Career highlights:
Carrying the Maple Leaf in Beijing
“I have had the honour of competing in four Olympic Games and winning three Olympic medals. My greatest sporting moment was carrying the flag for Canada at the closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I have also had the opportunity to compete in the last two Pan Am Games. The 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio was the first time trampoline was a part of the Pan Am Games. I won the gold medal at those games and it was an honour to be the first Pan Am gold medalist in women's trampoline.”
At Toronto 2015:
“I am hoping to reach the podium. I am training hard and trying to be in the best shape possible.  I shattered my ankle at the World Championships in November and was in a cast for almost three months. My recovery is going well and I hope to be in top form for the Games in July.”

Sheila Reid
Hometown: Newmarket
Events: 1500 metre, 5000 metre
Career highlights:
Five-time NCAA Division 1 Champion
Two-time Canadian National Champion
2012 Olympian
At Toronto 2015:
“My best times stack up well against the other participating countries. I won't be happy with anything other than a podium finish and it would be amazing to win on home soil. I was born in Toronto, grew up not too far from the city and would have a lot of family there to support me. Professional running takes me to places all over the world, but it would be a thrill to compete, and win, in front of my family and friends.”

Tracey Ferguson
Hometown: Grew up in Maple and Markham; her family now lives in Holland Landing
Event: Wheelchair basketball Parapan Am Games
Career highlights:
That first gold medal
“In 1992, we won Canada's first gold medal in basketball, period. That includes wheelchair basketball or basketball at the Paralympic or Olympic games. To be on that podium, as a high school student representing Canada, and hearing the anthem play and watching the flag rise up, watching my mom and my sister in the stands, you just kind of wonder ‘Is this real?' We went on to win four consecutive championships and three consecutive gold medals.”
At Toronto 2015:
“We're going in as world champions and I think we have really come together as a team and are playing a great style of team basketball. There's going to be a lot of competition at the Parapan Ams but as a team we're definitely going to try and stay on top of that podium.
“You always dream about representing Canada and getting that game winning shot and [I'm looking forward] to getting the opportunity to do that in my home country. I'm going to cherish the opportunity to put on a show for all the people that supported me.”

Gavin Smellie
Hometown: Maple
Events: 100 metre, 200 metre, 4x100 metre
Career highlights:
2012 Olympic finals in 4x100-metre
Bronze medal in 2013 World Championship in 4x100-metre
2014 Commonwealth Games finalist in 200-metre
“Being at the 2012 Olympic Games was a dream come true and also to finish in bronze medal position at the Olympic Games in the 4x100m relay was quite an accomplishment–despite getting DQed due to small technicality.
"While at the 2013 World Championship in Moscow, we competed against the same teams and won bronze … which proved to the team and the world that we deserved that medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.”
At Toronto 2015:
“Home court advantage, I believe, for me and all the Canadian athletes competing, is going to be very special because we have the crowd behind our back this time. It's going to push us to multiple podium performances.”


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