Community support humbles Olympians
Pose for pictures. Sign autographs. Meet old friends, make new ones.
It was a busy three hours that went by quickly for Vernon Olympic hero Kevin Hill.
The 27-year-old Canadian snowboard cross rider, who finished eighth overall in Sochi (second in the small final), had a perma-grin on his face as he and his family held a thank-you party in the Grand Room at Kal Tire Place Wednesday afternoon.
It was Hill’s and his family’s way of saying thanks to the community for the support while he pursued Olympic gold.
“Coming from a small town like this, the community really gets involved to support us,” said Hill, decked out in his Canadian Olympic team cardigan sweater with matching tie. “It shows no matter where you’re from, the little kids looking up to us, it shows you can make it if you put in the time, energy and the hard work. In the end, you can accomplish anything, that’s the best part.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of new people I’ve never seen before which is really cool. I’m really happy with the turnout.”
Among the new friends and admirers out of the hundreds Hill made Wednesday was Griffin Fletcher, 11, a Grade 6 student at Beairsto, who ended up winning one of 10 autographed Hill World Cup bibs the Olympian gave away.
“I think it’s really cool to have someone from our town go to the Olympics,” said Fletcher. “I watched his race on TV and it was sad what happened but that’s what happens in his sport (Hill was in second place in his semifinal when he was knocked out of contention from behind by a Spanish rider). I really wanted to meet him. He’s cool.”
Hailey Rilkoff and Courtney Moi, employees at the Vernon Visitor’s Centre, admitted they closed the office a smidge early for a chance to meet Hill.
“I’m happy to be here and see the community come out to support Kevin,” said Moi who, along with Rilkoff, had a cell phone picture of them snapped with Hill. “He’s done a real great job and I’m really proud of him. Having the picture taken was pretty cool. I’m a little star-struck.”
Added Rilkoff: “He’s a down-to-earth guy. He’s from Vernon. He’s making sure he talks to everybody, and always takes a moment to thank everyone for coming out.”
Hill is also well-known locally for his prowess in the world of BMX bike racing. Among the former BMX-ers catching up with Hill was Tyler Riva, a Grade 9 Vernon Secondary student.
“Kevin was my BMX coach for about 10 years,” said Riva. “We talked about sports and stuff. Just old friends talking. It’s great he made it to the Olympics. It gives us another figure to look up to.
Vernon’s other Olympic hero, ski halfpipe athlete Justin Dorey, 25, was not able to attend Wednesday’s function. He was represented by his father, Peter, who had a long conversation with Hill.
“It’s great to have the Doreys here,” said Hill. “It’s too bad Justin couldn’t be here but they came and supported me. It was awesome to have Justin represent Vernon in the Olympics as well.”
Dorey arrived at his Whistler home Monday night. He and Hill took part in the Olympic closing ceremonies Sunday in Sochi.
An exhausted Dorey, who was at his first-ever Olympics, now understands what the event means to so many people.
“The environment is crazy over there,” said Dorey. “People from all over the world, the best of the best athletes, the stoke over there was just insane. I got super involved in the pin trading over there, you can pretty much get anything you want if you have the right pins.”
Dorey was leading his event after the two qualifying runs, and said he was feeling good as he landed his finals run in between the qualifiers and the final.
During his first of two runs in the final, Dorey appeared to be on his way to a gold-medal-winning run when he crashed. He ended up 12th overall.
“The hit would have been up there if I had landed that run a little bit later,” said Dorey, whose parents, step-dad, aunt and uncle, godfather and longtime family friend were in the crowd at Sochi cheering him on. “I should have saved it for the finals. I didn’t stop my finals run, which was a bummer, but I made it pretty far.”
What touched him most about the Olympics was the support he got.
“I couldn’t believe how many people I hadn’t heard from or seen in 15 years, reaching out on Facebook,” said Dorey. “People have no idea what I do, but there was so much love and support from so many people it was overwhelming. As heartbreaking as it was that I didn’t land my finals runs, it was quite a touching experience to have the support of so many people.”
Jet-lagged and beat-up from Sochi, and needing to catch up on real-life stuff after putting it aside for three or four months, Dorey was apologetic for not being able to make it to Vernon in person for Wednesday’s event.
Saying thank you for the community’s support, he said, doesn’t seem to be enough.
“It’s been a pretty emotional ride,” said Dorey. “The most touching part of this whole last few years is the support from everyone in Vernon. That’s where my roots are.
“Having all the support of everybody out there made a world difference for taking this for what it is and looking at more than the results. Having the whole community behind me made it an incredible, once in a lifetime experience and I’m so grateful to the support of everybody there.”