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Dueck, Lazar share top athlete award

Paralympic superstar Josh Dueck and hockey phenom Curtis Lazar receive the Tim Hortons North Okanagan Athlete of the Year trophy from sponsor Dan Currie and 2013 winner Diane Schuetze Tuesday night at the Lakers Clubhouse. - Kevin Mitchell/Morning Star
Paralympic superstar Josh Dueck and hockey phenom Curtis Lazar receive the Tim Hortons North Okanagan Athlete of the Year trophy from sponsor Dan Currie and 2013 winner Diane Schuetze Tuesday night at the Lakers Clubhouse.
— image credit: Kevin Mitchell/Morning Star

Josh Dueck is 33 and in the prime of his ski career. Curtis Lazar is 19 and expecting to begin his pro hockey career with the Ottawa Senators next season.

The two elite Vernon athletes met for the first time Tuesday night when they shared the Tim Hortons Athlete of the Year award at Lakers Clubhouse.

Dueck won a silver medal in men’s downhill at the 2014 Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia on the 10th anniversary of a freestyle ski accident at Silver Star Mountain. Receiving plaques and medals never gets old.

“No, especially a local award,” said Dueck. “To be recognized by your community is pretty special. When I’m on the road competing, it gets tiring sometimes and when I was in Sochi, I was able to dig deep in the archives of those fond memories of my friends and family back at home who give me inspiration to do what I do and give me a really positive intention when I’m out there, as to why I’m doing what I’m doing.

“I like to ski, but competing is a bit of a work project for me. I enjoy it, but it takes a lot of my energy to do it. Coming back to what inspires you and your primary focus and intention, and for me, that is community, so absolutely this award means a lot to me.  If this would have passed me by after the year that I had, I would have been bummed.”

Dueck and his wife, Lacey, have an eight-month-old daughter, Nova. When he’s not being a dad, Josh is either training or putting time in as an ambassador. He doesn’t watch much hockey.

“Im actually very honoured to share this award with this hockey star. I’m hearing on the street that not only did he have a good season, he could be one of Canada’s next great hockey players. We come from a very strong hockey culture in Canada so to be alongside him is a great recognition and honour.”

Lazar, 19, was alternate captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings, who claimed the Western Hockey League title and the 96th annual Memorial Cup. Lazar rang up 41 goals and 76 points in the regular season and added 10 goals and 22 points in the WHL playoffs.

A first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, Lazar set a Memorial Cup record by scoring in a triple-overtime win over the Val D’Or Foreurs, the longest overtime game in tournament history. He won the George Parsons Trophy as the Most Sportsmanlike Player in the event.

The Tim Hortons award further boosted his Duracell smile.

“It means a lot,” said Lazar, a centre. “The season was quite spectacular in its own way, but it wouldn’t be possible without the support I get here from Vernon and the people throughout the North Okanagan. I owe a lot to them.”

He will train in Kelowna this summer and attend Ottawa’s main camp with optimism.

“I’ll leave it all in the gym and hopefully get the results come the fall.”

A Canuck fan growing up, Lazar will also spend time with his family, including three siblings, all hockey players.

He refuses to change his down-to-earth ways despite all of glory coming his way.

“Not at all. You probably see my dad (Dave), and he’s always smiling as well so I guess I get it from him. I love the game of hockey and I love my life and I love what I do, and that’s never gonna change me. Just live to the fullest and enjoy each moment of it.”

Also nominated for Athlete of the Year were Olympic snowboarder Kevin Hill, university field lacrosse players Bayne Bosquet and Ryan Sarazin, UBC Thunderbird golfer Connor Kozak, BMXer Shylo Orchard, track star Tyra Gilbert and UBC O Heat soccer sniper Kirsten Dodds.

Team of the Year went to the Vernon Adrenaline Rush, who represented Team B.C. and won the Western Canadian Under 16 ringette championships in Winnipeg.

“I think our strengths were we got along well and we were all really close friends,” said Maddie Powls, a tri-captain. “When one person was down, everyone else would bring them up. On the bench, we were really encouraging and we made a lot of jokes. We knew when to be serious and when we could have fun.”

Tri-captain Saylor Martian was just hoping for a medal and happy to be at westerns. The gold win over Manitoba was a bonus.

“We worked together really well, regardless of the situation we were in,” said Martian. “We’ve all played together so long we just kind of fit and it works really well.”

Added assistant coach Ellie Paulin, who helped Paige Powls: “They’re just a great group of kids to be around. Really focussed and driven and so much fun.”

Jan Mori, who has volunteered for scores of big events since moving here from Whitehorse 37 years ago, took the Leadership in Sport Builders award.

She met her husband, Terry at UBC where she studied education.

She was unable to find work teaching in Vernon so ended up working at the curling club.

“Coaching, when you work with the teams, is kind of fun,” she said. “ But, what I really enjoyed was the junior program when you had all of them  out there. They start off as grommets and end up as world champions (Kuhn brothers Brad and Ryan) which was pretty rewarding. Jamie Danbrook was also one of my little guys and he ended up at the worlds curling for New Brunswick.”

Mori helped organize Unplug Week last month and is coaching an Australian curling team. She has gone to China and New Zealand with the rink.

Marina Koberg of youth soccer, and multiple-sport boosters Akbal Mund and Sonja Gaudet were also nominated in the Builders category.

 

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