VANCOUVER — Imagine this: A girl growing up on a ranch in Falcon Lake wakes up one morning and decides to detail her Olympic dream on a chunk of bristol board.
It begins with cutting and pasting photos of her icons — Canadian Olympic biathlon medallists Becky Scott and Myriam Bedard — to the board. A Canadian flag, of course, is added.
And then come the inspirational reminders she carefully prints with a marker:
‘Relentless Pursuit of Excellence’
‘International Podium’ and, finally;
‘2010 Olympic Games’ and ‘2014 Olympic Games.’
Now imagine this: A girl who grew up on a ranch in Falcon Lake wakes up one morning and realizes that after 10 years her Olympic dream is finally here.
All those years on the ski trails, all those hours at the shooting range, all that time in the gym and now she is wearing a green, white and blue competitors bib featuring the Olympic rings...
"This is really inspiring to be here right now," began Megan Imrie on Saturday before stepping on the Whistler biathlon course as an Olympian. "And suddenly all this time I’ve waited for this day, for so long, and now it’s really real."
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Let’s be blunt here: The Imries of Falcon Lake are not an ‘average’ family — if ‘average’ is represented by the kind of clan that calls suburbia home, struggles with the traffic on a commute to work and then collectively collapses in front of the tube at the end of the day.
No, these folks are ‘outdoorsy’ in the truest sense of the term.
They run a hobby ranch, Falcon Beach Ranch, that gives city slickers the opportunity to experience rural life through horseback riding and hiking through trails of the Whiteshell.
But growing up on that ranch also means early mornings to handle chores and the development of a tireless work ethic. It also means you spend a lot of time outside with your parents Murray — a former Parks Canada employee and part-time trapper — and Marg, a teacher who just adored being outside.
And it’s that environment, not surprisingly, that helped nurture Gillian, now in education at the University of Winnipeg, Devon who lives on Baffin Island and works as a seal and fur adviser for the government of Nunavut as well as Megan, Falcon Lake’s Olympian.
"That’s where my passion for being outside and getting your hands dirty, so to speak, comes from: both my parents are very down-to-earth people," explains Imrie. "My dad is an avid outdoorsman... hunter, fisherman, trapper... he loves just being outside. Same with my mom, too. She loves to ski and run and just be around the lake, canoeing or whatever.
"One of my earliest memories is wearing these little plastic skis that my snow boots strapped into and just walking around the yard."
But it’s one thing to be drawn to the sunshine and the ski trails, it’s quite another to turn that affection into an Olympic dream.
That dream was first fostered when Megan was six years old and watched the Canadian Biathlon Championships virtually in her back yard at Falcon Lake.
She wasn’t alone. Other kids were interested in the sport that combines skiing and shooting and that led to the development of the ‘Biathlon Bears’ after-school program — which her parents were instrumental in establishing and helping run — that saw youngsters ski around the school and then head inside to fire air rifles at targets.
And then one day...
"We walked up into her room when she was about 14," explained Marg, "and she had this big poster on the wall with pictures of Becky Scott and her heroes that she made and she said, ‘I’m going to be in the Olympics.’"
But what the Imries did next is what helps make an Olympian. They didn’t just offer up one of those ‘that’s nice, dear’ pats on the head but instead helped fuel her dream through daily encouragement.
Murray also helped by grooming the trails near the ranch for his daughter and fashioning a headlamp for her so she could train at night. Others would see something in the oldest Imrie girl and offer to help, too.
Rich Pettit, a coach who was one of the Biathlon Bears founders, started to train her in cross-country running — she was a 2000 and 2003 provincial champion who also won back-to-back under-18 titles in the 2003 and 2004 Manitoba Marathon. Ironically, Pettit is also with the national team as a ‘wax tech’ coach.
At the same time Imrie was starting to get noticed at the national level. She competed in the Canada Games and picked up a medal in her first national competition in Canmore.
Then, at age 14, she got a phone call from coach Geret Coyne who asked her if she wanted to be part of a development team that was training towards Vancouver 2010.
"So all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, maybe I want to go to the Olympics,’" said Imrie. "At that point it was nine years away and it seemed like such a long time away. But it was absolutely critical. I would not be here today if I had not gotten that phone call."
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Megan Imrie and her family will insist their Olympian would not be wearing that ‘Vancouver 2010’ competitor’s bib if not for the help of so many.
The Manitoba Trappers Association, for example, created a donate-a-fur program that raised a money and she was also sponsored by a lumber company, a grocery store and soap company.
Maybe that’s why, as Imrie competes in front of eight or nine family members who have come from all over North America to watch her compete in Whistler, she knows she is not just representing Canada, but Falcon Lake and Manitoba, too.
And maybe that’s why so many must have felt like they were there on the starting line in Whistler with Imrie, too.
"I still have that poster," said Imrie. "It’s been up on the wall in my condo for quite some time. It’s unreal that I’ve finally reached one of my biggest goals.
"I don’t think anybody would believe how big the smile is on my face."