Top 10 sports stories of 2019: Numbers 1-5

Countdown of the top local sports stories

#5 Glen Vowell junior cowgirl tops B.C. circuit

A Wet’suwet’en-Gitxsan-Dutch cowgirl from Glen Vowell turned heads on the B.C. rodeo circuit this year.

Marika Van Tunen is the British Columbia Rodeo Association (BCRA) 2019 junior barrel racing champion finishing first with atime of 16.95 at the Polaris Championship Finals in North Thompson Sept. 2, a result that would have given her third place in theLadies division.

Van Tunen was also the Juniors All Around season champion with winnings of $3,178 in 20 events.

She said it was very exciting to come out on top and she is proud of the accomplishment especially considering the challenges toher training.

“It’s really hard without an indoor arena, so the only option I practically have is riding out in the snow to get my horse [Frenchie]fit,” she said.

The 16-year-old will be doing that again all winter this year to prepare for her graduation to the ladies circuit in 2020.

It is an improbable story. There is the less than ideal training situation. Also, Indigenous cowgirls are not exactly a commonfixture in rodeo circles.

But furthermore, Marika is the very first person in her family to ever catch the rodeo bug.

“There are a lot of people that were surprised with me not being in a big rodeo family with grandparents that went to the NFR[National Finals Rodeo] or parents that went to the NFR,” she said.

“I was just the one who got a horse and started doing the rodeo circuit and just started doing good and a lot of the rodeo worldwas pretty shocked about that, especially being First Nations.”

Marika gives a lot of credit to the people around her for her success, noting particularly that her supporters got her to 20 of the21 2019 rodeos.

“That really helped me bump up into the standings and keep my number one place this season,” she said.

“My sponsors helped me out a lot, and same with my family, they helped me a lot. My grandparents [Tony and Myrtle Sampare]helped a lot and they’re one of my biggest sponsors.”

While the immediate goal is getting ready for the Ladies circuit in 2020, the ultimate goal is simple enough.

“I want to be a pro barrel racer,” Marika said.

But it goes beyond just being a professional. Marika has her heart set on eventually going all the way to the Canadian FinalsRodeo (CFR) at the Calgary Stampede and the NFR in Las Vegas.

And she’s brimming with confidence she will make it.

“All I would have to do is get my new horse trained and ride it every day and keep it healthy and keep myself healthy and I thinkwe’ll get there,” she said.

That new horse is a two-year-old named Dynasty, who is currently being trained by Marika’s dad to eventually replace the 12-year-old Frenchie.

“[Frenchie] was really good for juniors and, for Ladies, she’ll be competitive, but the new horse I have will probably be the one I’lluse for the NFR and CFR,” she said.

#4 Local runner finishes second in first ten-kilometre race

A Smithers runner sped his way into second place at a provincial competition.

Luke Smith finished second in the Haida Gwaii Totem to Totem 10-kilometre race out of the 42 entrants on July 20. His final time was 41:44.

The race’s winner Brionne Lavoie of Tlell finished with a time of 40:39.

It was Smith’s first attempt at a 10-kilometre race.

Previously the Smithers athlete has competed in a number of Special Olympic events, including as part of the Bulkley Valley Special Olympics Alpine Ski Team.

Other notable finishes from the local area included Jane Vetch of Telkwa who was sixth in the marathon and Joni Jones, also of Telkwa, who was fifth in the half marathon.

In total, there were close to 200 runners who headed to the races which were held in Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. The competitors came from all parts of Canada as well as all over the globe, including Australia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Cuba and France.

3. Smithers Tahltan fighter Lando Ball wins bronze at karate world championships

A Smithers-based, Tahltan martial artist won bronze at the World Kickboxing and Karate Union (WKU) World Championships.

Lando Ball was just one point away from advancing to the gold medal fight in the U12 50+ kg Karate point fighting division when he narrowly lost out to American opponent Diego Galeano.

“I felt like I won,” Lando said via text from Bregenz, Austria. “I’m a winner for just coming here to the World Championships.”

Ann Ball, Lando’s mother, said in a Facebook post it was “without doubt, the most intense fight I’ve ever watched.”

“He represented Canada, the Shogun Dojo (Smithers) and our Tahltan Nation on Tahltan Day (Oct. 18) like a true champion.”

Lando qualified for worlds by virtue of his gold medal win at the Canadian National Championships in Calgary in March.

He is currently looking forward to going back to nationals this March and qualifying again for the worlds, which will be held in Quebec City this year.

2. South Hazelton steeplechaser competes at worlds

On Sept. 27, South Hazelton’s Regan Yee raced in the third heat of three to try to qualify for the finals at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Doha, Qatar. She came in 11th of 13 with a time of 9:48.56 and failed to make the final.

Going into the championships,Yee was ranked second in Canada and 36th in the world. The Langley Mustangs Athletic Club athlete qualified for worlds just under the wire by running a personal best of 9:35.49 at Azusa Pacific University in California, a last-chance qualifying track meet, on July 9. The IAAF standard is 9:40.00.

She said she didn’t know where she stood until it was all over.

“It’s kind of hard to know how fast you’re going in steeplechase because it’s not like a 400-metre track because if the water pit is on the inside it cuts off a few metres or if it’s on the outside it adds a few metres,” she explained.

“It’s the biggest accomplishment I’ve had so far in my track and field career, so it was a very exciting moment when I found out I was named to Team Canada,” she said.

1. Smithers Steelheads return to the CIHL after two seasons away

The Smithers Steelheads are back and ready for a new season.

The Central Interior Hockey League team collapsed two years ago because there weren’t enough players but that’s changedrecently and there’s a new team ready to hit the ice.

President of the Smithers Steelheads Eric Tevely said he moved to Smithers last year and joined a local men’s hockey team wherehe met another player, Jeremy Chadsey, who invited him to play for the Kitimat Ice Demons. They talked about starting theSteelheads up again because there were 10 players driving from Smithers to play for either Kitimat or Prince Rupert.

He said the new team will look different than it has in the past.

“A lot of the other guys [from the former Steelheads] they’ve had kids and stuff now and they aren’t interested in playinganymore,” he said.

“From the old team, we have eight players signed up that are coming out to play. The rest will be new faces, which is good,because the direction we want to take the team in is a younger team. One of my goals for the team is to give something for theyounger generation to look forward to. After you are done playing midget hockey in Smithers there isn’t anything to go to. Thereare a lot of good players that don’t want to move away to play a junior style of hockey and a lot of players returning from playingjunior AA and AAA. There’s a market for young talent here.”

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