Connie Kapak was nervous for three weeks.
Given the honour of being the final torch bearer for the Greater Vernon Countdown to the B.C. Winter Games ceremony Friday at Spirit Square, before passing the torch to Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster, Kapak, a Vernon speed skating phenom, had one goal in mind.
“I didn’t want to stumble,” laughed the amiable 12-year-old Grade 7 Harwood Elementary student, who rarely stumbles on the ice.
She had to negotiate some icy and snowy conditions as she approached the cauldron on a chilly evening.
Kapak ran the torch in while a song written and recorded specifically for the B.C. Winter Games by Vernon’s Andrew Allen, You’re Time To Shine, blared over the speakers.
Kapak was asked three weeks ago to be the one to pass the torch to Foster, after a torch relay began from the Village Green Hotel and made its way to Spirit Square. Kapak, used to skating and not running, ran past the crowd of approximately 200 to a thunderous applause before passing off to Foster.
The MLA had the honour of lighting the LED torch Friday night to signal 100 days (actually 96) to the start of the Games in Greater Vernon and Armstrong Feb. 23-26.
“It was good,” said Kapak of her run. “It only took me about 10 seconds to say yes when they asked me.”
Kapak expects to be competing in speed skating at the Games.
Vernon native and Global TV anchor Randene Neill, whose parents were at the ceremony, served as emcee for the event, which included dignitaries, games directors and sponsors, among those executives from Black Press, one of the Games' biggest boosters.
Neill expects the Games in her hometown to be the best ever, thanks to its residents.
“Thanks to all of you, the success of all of the Games are because of volunteers,” said Neill. “I met a lot of volunteers today, and you’re all amazing. It’s overwhelming to me how much work you’re putting into this.”
Foster not only officially lit the countdown torch, he presented local organizing president Akbal Mund with a cheque for $100,000, part of the government’s commitment to the event.
“It’s going to be a great time and as Mayor Wayne Lippert said, it’s going to be a chance for the North Okanagan to shine,” said Foster. “They’re going to come back because we are the most wonderful hosts in the area.”
Given the biggest cheer of the night, Mund praised all of the volunteers who were decked out in different coloured Games’ jackets, and looked forward to inviting the province to the North Okanagan.
“The Games will have a great economic impact on our area, and it will be great to have everybody here in our city,” said Mund. “When the kids get here, let’s cheer them on, win or lose, it’s not about that, it’s about having fun.”
Okanagan Indian Band elder Virginia Gregoire blessed the ceremony with a traditional prayer while Chief Byron Louis and Lippert also extended welcomes and thanks for being part of the Games.
Well-known singer Melina Moore and her son, Justin, sang O Canada in English and French.
People who attended the ceremony enjoyed free barbecue hamburgers, root beer, hot chocolate and a big bonfire to help stay warm.
Among those who came early was Vernon’s Sheila Sovereign, who participated in the B.C. Summer Games in the 1980s, and also served as a volunteer with the 1982 B.C. Summer Games in Vernon.
“I wanted to come down and support the Games,” said Sovereign, who also supported her friend, local artist Heidi Maddess who is serving as a Games host. “I’m excited that we will be having the Games in our area.”
More than 1,000 volunteers for the Games have already signed up but more are needed.
The Games’ office is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to sign up or to purchase Games souvenir clothing.
---Vernon Morning Star