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Olympic hero’s name to adorn former Kelvin site

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What’s in a name? In the case of Canada’s most-decorated Olympian, it might just be enough to spring governments into action.

Elmwood residents had been urging the city for years to redevelop the site of the former Kelvin Community Centre, which was demolished four years ago.

When they suggested that a new facility be named after Clara Hughes, the six-time Olympic medalist in cycling and speed skating, the wheels finally started to turn.

Construction has begun on Clara Hughes Recreation Park, a $700,000 project that will include an outdoor rink, skateboard park, basketball court and more.

"We thought she’d be a fantastic choice, having played at the club and being such a quality person," said John King, an area resident who’s been active in the community’s efforts to replace the old centre.

Hughes’ mother, Maureen, said naming the site after her daughter was "very appropriate," given her history there.

"She grew up learning how to skate over there," Maureen said. "She and her sister learned how to skate when they were about three and five years old. I had to walk them up there. It was quite a little trek in the middle of winter."

Hughes also played ringette, softball and soccer at Kelvin, and said it was where she first began to develop the athleticism that would eventually make her one of the top endurance athletes of all-time.

Adults and children in the neighbourhood look up to Hughes as a role model not just because of her Olympic success, but her charitable work with Right to Play, an international organization dedicated to helping all children participate in sport, and her outspoken support of mental health education.

In a speech at the Nov. 3 announcement, Hughes said she was touched to be involved with "creating that safe play space, that accessible play space, for kids to come and play, and learn, and grow and flourish in their community. Every child deserves this right."

Hughes added that she hopes her journey — from a young girl who "really sucked at softball" to the owner of six Olympic medals — will inspire many of the children who use the facility.

Many of the children at the announcement had a chance to see Hughes’ medals up-close, something King said showed yet again how special a person she is.

"She puts Elmwood on the map in a positive way," he said.

Area resident Carlos Sosa, who also had been advocating for a new community centre, said the announcement was a step in the right direction, but there’s still more to be done.

"Hopefully with the momentum we’ve created, in the future there can be a building on site we can call our own," he said. "(Hughes) did indicate that Bronx (Park Community Centre) was too far away. Hopefully her comments help our efforts."

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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