Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Earning a Games ticket isn't easy

Manitoba's young athletes trained hard, fought adversity

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They come from different places, different backgrounds, different walks of life. But collectively, they are Team Manitoba and they're ready to compete at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.

These 430 athletes across 20 disciplines have trained for years to earn the opportunity of wearing the buffalo on their uniform and represent Manitoba. Their paths were not simple strolls through the park. Members of Team Manitoba have overcome adversity to represent their province in Sherbrooke, Que.

Tara Nykoluk wasn't sure if she'd ever play softball again. The pain in her back prevented her from walking. She couldn't bend over and she could hardly sit in the same position for 15 seconds before the pain was unbearable. Nykoluk had two discs in her spine that protruded, one of them pinching her sciatic nerve. All this happened in 2009, a critical point in her young career.

"I felt really discouraged because it happened during the tryouts for the 2009 Canada Games," Nykoluk said. "I felt that I had to prove myself even more because I was going through this injury and it made me work that much harder to get through it."

Nykoluk, now 21, worked on strengthening her core to take pressure off her spine. After physiotherapy, she represented the province at the 2009 Canada Summer Games.

"I put in a ton of work and I think I'm actually stronger than I was before. I didn't just get myself back to how I was before, but I made myself better by doing more work to improve myself more," she said.

Arber Hashanin faced his adversity at a younger age. In 1999, four year-old Hashanin and his family fled war-stricken Kosovo to a refugee camp. They arrived in Winnipeg with nothing.

"It was really crazy to come here with absolutely nothing, and now we're really getting ourselves on our feet and doing well," Hashanin said.

Now 18, he has been playing soccer seven years and has represented the province at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games.

A trip back home to Kosovo put sport into perspective for the midfielder.

"I've been back home to visit, and it was interesting to see so many things that we take for granted here that they don't have.

"It's made me realize how grateful I am for what I have and use sport to show that," he said.

Hashanin has become a role model for his siblings and cousins as he moves forward in his athletic and academic career. He will join the University of Winnipeg Wesmen soccer team this upcoming season as he works towards a bachelor of science degree with a major in biology.

Both Nykoluk and Hashanin are seen as leaders on their team. They've represented Manitoba before and they each know the taste of finishing just outside of medal contention.

Nykoluk's softball team finished fourth at the 2009 Canada Games and Hashanin and his soccer team finished fourth at the 2011 Western Canada Games. They're ready to take their team to the podium, with their sights set on gold.

"This year, we have a great group of girls ready to play, and although we're young, we have great chemistry on and off the field," Nykoluk said.

"I think that's going to help us tremendously as we try and achieve a medal, hopefully gold because that is the main goal."

Said Hashanin: "Having that first Western Canada Games experience means I have more experience than some of the younger guys on the team. I'm hoping that I can just be there to support them off the field with any questions they have and of course support them on the field as well, because a lot of our team is made up of some younger players, and I'm hoping with my experience I'll help them move forward."

No matter what path they took to reach the Canada Games, all Manitoba's athletes have trained hard over the past year in Sport Manitoba's high-performance training centre. The goal is to bring in not only more medals at future Canada Games events, but train and prepare young Manitoba athletes to achieve their Olympic dreams.

"Honestly, it was an experience of a lifetime, and I'm very fortunate to be doing this for a third time," Nykoluk said.

"I'm very proud to represent Manitoba and I'm really privileged to do this."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 C4

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