November 22, 2017

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11-year-old Attila hun-gers for success as a diver

Leave it to a kid whose name is synonymous with invincibility and a reign of terror to shrug off the daunting label of being the youngest Manitoba athlete at the Canada Summer Games.

Winnipeg diver Attila Bernatsky is only 11 years old. He’s still in elementary school and this fall heads into Grade 6 at École Van Walleghem in Linden Woods.

And yet he’ll be springing off the board against athletes from across the country as much as eight years his senior, as diving is for competitors 19 and under.

That’s no big deal, the diminutive but spirited youngster says. He joined about 175 other Team ’Toba athletes, luggage and sports gear in tow, Thursday afternoon at St. Vital Mall. They boarded buses and made the short trek to their new home for the next week — the athletes’ village at the University of Manitoba.

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Leave it to a kid whose name is synonymous with invincibility and a reign of terror to shrug off the daunting label of being the youngest Manitoba athlete at the Canada Summer Games.

Winnipeg diver Attila Bernatsky is only 11 years old. He’s still in elementary school and this fall heads into Grade 6 at École Van Walleghem in Linden Woods.

JASON BELL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Attila Bernatsky (front with glasses) and coach Dallas Ludwick (front left), with the rest of the Manitoba diving team. </p>

JASON BELL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Attila Bernatsky (front with glasses) and coach Dallas Ludwick (front left), with the rest of the Manitoba diving team.

JASON BELL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>Team Manitoba female basketball player Niyah Becker (left) and male baseball player Lyndon Zimmer are off to the athletes’ village.</p>

JASON BELL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Team Manitoba female basketball player Niyah Becker (left) and male baseball player Lyndon Zimmer are off to the athletes’ village.

And yet he’ll be springing off the board against athletes from across the country as much as eight years his senior, as diving is for competitors 19 and under.

That’s no big deal, the diminutive but spirited youngster says. He joined about 175 other Team ’Toba athletes, luggage and sports gear in tow, Thursday afternoon at St. Vital Mall. They boarded buses and made the short trek to their new home for the next week — the athletes’ village at the University of Manitoba.

"This is my first time and it feels really cool because I’m young here and I could be against 19-year-olds, so that’s a pretty cool thing," Attila said, a day before the Opening Ceremonies at Bell MTS Centre.

"It’s not scary. I’m just doing my dives no matter how old the other people are. We’re just going to give it our all and do the best we can."

Two of his male teammates on the Manitoba diving squad are almost as young as he is. Alex Tiaglei also is 11 but a few months older, while Adam Cohen is only 12.

Attila’s age, size and, most assuredly, his name make him a tough Games participant to forget.

"I’m named after Attila the Hun. It’s a Hungarian name. My mom was born there and my dad’s mom was born there, too" he explained. "A lot of people ask me about it. I don’t know any others. Not here. Maybe in Hungary."

He started diving off lower springboards when he was seven, and immediately loved the rush of adrenaline when he launched himself off the five- and 10-metre platforms as he got older.

"The first time I did five metres it was scary but it’s not any more," Attila said.

The Manitoba diving team participates during Week 1 of the 17-day event, with competition at the Pan Am Pool set for Monday to Thursday.

The male baseball, male and female basketball, mountain biking, female soccer, triathlon, male softball and beach volleyball events are also set for Winnipeg during the first week, while rowing will be held in Kenora and sailing will be staged in Gimli.  

Niyah Becker, 16, is gearing up for the female basketball event at the flashy new Canada Games Sport for Life Centre on Pacific Avenue and also the Duckworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg. The chance to don provincial colours is particularly special for the 6-1 high school hoops star, who played for the Vincent Massey Trojans last season but is transferring to Lincoln Prep (Hamilton) this fall before moving on to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City after graduation.

"It’s kind of sad that I’m leaving the province but I’m representing the province this week and I’ll always be a Manitoban," Becker said, adding the host female squad has a terrific opportunity to reach the podium.

"The ultimate goal is always to get the gold. We’re going to work our hardest and just compete for each other," she said. "I’ve knows so many of these girls since I was eight years old and we’re pretty close. It’ll be exciting."

Lyndon Zimmer, 17, who hails from the small community of Inglis, north of Russell and just five minutes from Asessippi Provincial Park, said joining his teammates in the parking lot Wednesday is the culmination of three years of hard work to crack the baseball team.

The six-foot, right-handed relief pitcher knows he’ll be feeling the flutter of butterflies when he takes the mound for the first time.

"It’s pretty surreal being at something like this in our home province," Zimmer said. "This is my first experience like this. I’m going to be nervous that first pitch and I don’t know how it’s going to be. But I’m excited."

Claire Healey, 17, meanwhile, has a pretty good idea of the magnitude of a national multi-sport event. The Winnipegger, primed and ready for the triathlon next week, was at the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., as an alpine skier.

Out at Birds Hill Park, she’ll have to endure a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike and a five-kilometre run in the female triathlon Monday, and then relay events Thursday and Friday.

"I love the feeling of accomplishment at the finish line," said Healey, who enters Grade 12 at St. Mary’s Academy in September.

"Even though it’s an individual sport, because it’s so gruelling me and my teammates are so close, because we all understand what we go through every day in training. 

"I’m so excited. It should be unbelievable. It didn’t all feel real for so long, even when we were training. But when I got here (Thursday) and saw the rest of Team Manitoba and everyone in their uniforms, I can’t wait." 

No sports are scheduled for Aug. 5 and 6, and then the next wave of athletes arrive for Week 2 of the Games, featuring canoe/kayak, road cycling, golf, male soccer, female softball, indoor volleyball, swimming and tennis, beginning Aug. 7.

Team Manitoba chef de mission Barry Moroz, out in the mall parking lot directing traffic, ensuring bags were loaded and kids didn’t miss their buses, said he’s just as pumped up as the athletes, coaches and team managers.

"You just run on adrenaline. We have early morning meetings and late nights because we have to ensure everybody’s in the village and accounted for. It’s tiring but it’s exciting," he said. "This is what it’s all about. Canadian youth at their best. And they’re great kids and they work so hard. I’m their No. 1 cheerleader. You want to see them do well."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell .

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