Local Olympic medallist, Carol Huynh, returned home to Hazelton last week to spread a message of hope and perseverance to students and Gitxsan Chiefs.
Huynh shared stories with every school in the Hazelton area about her family’s past and what it was like to earn a chance to represent Canada at the Olympics.
At the Gitxsan summit Huynh took the podium to a standing ovation and when she began to speak last Thursday all ears were open to her message.
“It feels so good to be back home,” Huynh said with a smile and laugh that spread through the crowd.
“All I do is play a sport, thankfully, sport can be used as a metaphor for nearly every human endeavour.”
The overall theme of Huynh’s speech was about setting goals and overcoming adversity, but she knows she would not be where she is today if not for the will of her ancestors.
Her grandparents lived in rural China and were forced to emigrate to Vietnam.
She never met her grandfathers, but her grandmothers gave her enough of an example to go on.
“I was about nine and she came into my room and took one of my Barbie skirts off the floor,” Huynh, who was playing with her older sister at the time, explained.
“Turns out she used it for some cleaning.”
Although she remembers crying after learning what her grandmother used her doll’s clothing for, she now sees her grandmother was just showing them to use what is available.
“It was clear to her we had an excessive amount of accessories for our dolls,” Huynh said.
Life in an agricultural family, that spent most of their time growing food or fleeing countries in the midst of civil war, instilled in Huynh the focus needed to compete at the highest level.
Watching her father tend a garden while growing up was another example for Huynh.
“There was always a vegetable garden in our backyard,” Huynh said.
“He had a goal, he made a plan and he cultivated until the garden matched his vision.”
Huynh’s father learned to garden in Indonesia, where her family used their life savings to move after Vietnam.
Huynh embodies the drive of her family when she wrestles, but it took a very long time to cultivate the skills to get there.
“I want to come home again and again to remind everyone here that ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” Huynh said.
She spent countless hours in the Hazelton secondary school’s wrestling room repeating skills and challenging herself to surmount any obstacle, whether it be a teammate in practice or perfecting a specific move.
Since then she’s wrestled all over the world and is an 11-time Canadian champion and the woman to beat in nearly every tournament she entered for nearly a decade.
But she admits the most challenging time was between the previous two Olympics.
After winning a gold medal in Beijing she had difficulty adjusting to being in the spotlight and found she had become a negative person.
“It was after a CTV interview where I answered a question about sponsorship for Canadian Olympians with a bad response that I really took a look at who I had become,” Huynh said.
“I made the decision to change my attitude that night.”
That decision made it possible for Huynh to represent Canada again in the London 2012 Olympics.
Now she is accustomed to fame and using it to help better her home community.
The Upper Skeena Recreation Centre Capital Campaign Committee named Huynh honourary chair.
The USRC committee carries much of the burden in collecting the necessary funding for a new sports facility.
With the former arena operating on borrowed time and more than $8 million dollars away from reality, Huynh is happy to assist the cause.
The USRC is tentatively scheduled to open its doors in the fall of 2014.