With a dazzling smile and a bemused shake of her head, beach volleyball player Wanda Guenette, had to be coaxed to show off her gold medal at the Richardson International Airport Friday morning.
Guenette won gold in beach volleyball with partner Laura Inward at the World Master's Games in Turino, Italy.
Guenette is a former member of Canada's national women's volleyball team which competed at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She and her partner have won gold twice before, at the World Masters Games in Edmonton and again in Sydney. This is their third gold, a hard-fought hat trick for the star athlete with a quiet manner and steely stamina.
Her determination inspired close friends, including a student, to greet her as a conquering hero at the arrival lounge.
"I was up until 3 a.m. painting this," said Paityn Devlin, 15, as she and her friend and fellow artist Brooke Lawson held up a yellow banner, with the name "Wanda" painted in wide, bright letters and glowing with sparkles, at the foot of the arrival’s escalator.
In addition to personal training, Paityn is on the High Line beach volleyball team that Guenette coaches.
To say the teen sees Guenette as a role model would be an understatement. Her entire family joined her in the arrivals lounge.
"I did not expect this," said the soft-spoken athlete as she stepped off the escalator, the only passenger on a flight out of Montreal to be greeted with a banner, lights and cameras.
"She didn’t warn me about this," Guenette said shyly.
The "she" is Paityn’s mother Carla Devlin, a big fan and close friend who wanted the athlete to bask in some well-deserved recognition.
"Anybody who wins a medal, an accomplishment like that should be acknowledged," Carla said.
This accomplishment, however, is special. It represents an achievement against some big odds stacked against the athlete, her friend said.
At 51, the athlete competes in a sport that draws a far younger crowd, even with the relaxed age standards at the Masters, which touts its competitions as open to everyone from age 0 to 100.
Beyond age, Guenette competes now with the challenge of arthritis.
"To win a gold medal at 50 years old and she suffers from arthritis a lot... It’s such a huge accomplishment," Carla said.
The World Masters Games are known as the most important sporting event in the world for athletes over 30, involving four times the number of athletes who compete in the summer Olympics held every four years.