Growing up in Kelowna, Heather Mandoli excelled at every sport she tried—rugby, volleyball and basketball.
But when she took an oar into her hands and began rowing, the KLO grad had truly found her calling.
Mandoli was introduced Tuesday morning in Kelowna as one of six new inductees into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
An NCAA standout at the University of Michigan, Mandoli went on to compete for Canada in rowing at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Mandoli and the women’s eights challenged for a medal that year before finishing in fourth place.
Mandoli is honoured to be included in the Hall of Fame’s class of 2018.
“It really is just a dream come true, something I would never expect,” said Mandoli. “I was just someone who loved sports, I just happened to stumble into a sport I was able to excel at and really produced a lot of amazing opportunities and doorways I never knew existed.”
Here’s a look at the other inductees:
Folk starred with his hometown Okanagan Sun, earning league recognition as the B.C. Junior Football League’s outstanding offensive lineman.
He then went on to Butte College in Chico, CA where he helped lead the Roadrunners to a pair of undefeated seasons and two Bowl game victories.
Folk played 12 seasons in the Canadian Football League, all with the Toronto Argonauts and won two Grey Cup titles in 1997 and 2004.
A product of Kelowna’s minor hockey system, Dirk played more than 300 NHL games with five different teams, including the Vancouver Canucks.
A stay-at-home defenseman during his career, he was also a head coach for eight seasons in the minor professional ranks.
Dirk, who is currently the head instructor at Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, was humbled by the honour.
“It’s overwhelming, something I never expected,” Dirk said. “As a little boy growing up in Kelowna and playing at Memorial, I just wanted to play hockey. I loved the game and had aspirations of playing in the NHL, for me wanting to be Bobby Orr.
“When you play, you don’t think of something like this. I was very fortunate to reach my dream of playing in the NHL, so this is the cherry on top.”
A multi award-winning paralympic athlete, Melesko is a four-time Canadian Special Olympics gold medal winner in track and field.
She has excelled on the global stage, winning two gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the World Special Olympics, as well as two silver and one bronze at the Paralympic Games.
Melesko also thrived in winter sports, winning gold in cross country skiing at provincial and national games, and three medals at the Special Olympisc World Games in 2005.
Last year, she won two gold and one silver medal in nordic skiing at the 2017 World Games in Austria.
“It’s an honour to be the first Special Olympian to be inducted in this area,” said Melesko.
Wong has dedicated 40 years of his life in helping build the sport of volleyball in the Okanagan. In 1992, he founded the Kelowna Volleyball Club and served as president of Volleyball Canada from 2007 to 2013.
Wong was inducted into the BC Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2015, and a year later was recognized at the 50th BC Athlete of the year awards in Vancouver.
“I certainly am humbled,” Wong said of his induction. “I’ve been a Kelowna resident for more than 45 years now and to receive any kind of recognition for just having fun in this area is surprising and, like I said, a great honour.”
During his career, Simpson has inspired many young Canadians to play baseball, writing about the sport both in Canada and abroad.
He was USA Baseball’s National Media Award winner in 1989.
Now living in Durham, North Carolina, Simpson won the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Award in 2004 and in 2011 was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 2018 inductees will officially be enshrined into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 22 at the Coast Capri Hotel.
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