Teeing Off to Remember Mark Lowry's Lasting Influence on Canadian Sport

A golf tournament in Ottawa next Monday bears the name of one of Canadian sport’s best friends, according to COC chief executive officer Chris Rudge. That name is Mark Lowry, and the legacy he left behind will reach its apex at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Lowry, the COC’s former executive director of sport, died of cancer in October 2005. He was 51. A passionate supporter of Canadian athletes, Lowry dedicated his career to building a strong sport system in Canada. That dedication led to a vision that may be fulfilled in Vancouver and Whistler next February.

“Mark was probably the best friend that high performance sport had in this country,” Rudge said. “The potential success of our team in 2010 will be Mark’s greatest legacy.”

Lowry, who had many roles before the COC with national sport federations, was instrumental in building Own the Podium – the program driving the Canadian Olympic Team’s pursuit of a record medal haul in 2010. Earlier this decade, Lowry conceived a new level of high performance sport success in Canada, which took shape as Own the Podium. That integral program, which provides funding and direction for Canadian athletes and coaches, started being developed in 2003. The COC’s sport partners, who Rudge said had high respect for Lowry, got right behind the fledgling program.

“In cooperation with partners, we set an ambitious goal,” Rudge continued. “We possibly could be number one in the world. Mark was the inspiration for that thinking.”

After Vancouver was awarded the Olympic Winter Games, Lowry realized the Canadian Olympic Team could not go into 2010 without a significant plan in place to do better than ever before. Soon thereafter, a plan was in place to assess strengths and weaknesses in all winter sports, major sport and government partners were in place, and serious investments were made. Unfortunately Lowry didn’t see the first signs of major progress, when in Torino 2006 Canada secured 24 medals, seven more than in 2002.

His memorial golf tournament, called “Drive for the Podium”, was established by friends and family to celebrate Lowry’s passion. Three tournaments have thus far raised nearly $100,000, for the Mark Lowry Sport Excellence Fund, which in turn goes straight to athletes and coaches. The fourth tournament is on June 22, always at Stonebridge Golf and Country Club, where Lowry often played, in Ottawa where he lived.

Each year the tournament attracts the CBC’s Scott Russell, who is a strong supporter, as well as Olympians and members of the sport community. Last year, Olympic medallists Mark Tewksbury and Sylvie Bernier attended. Confirmed thus far this year are Olympic skier Laurie Graham and husband Murray Wilson, former Montreal Canadiens forward.

Bob Elliott, a long-time friend of Lowry’s and one of the tournament’s organizers, said Lowry would be proud of the progress in Canada’s sport system. “People say ‘passionate’ and it tends to be a cliché,” Elliott said, “But he really believed in what he was doing. When we talked, everything was about the athletes.”

For more information on the golf tournament, visit www.driveforthepodium.com. With an online form still under construction, you can donate to the Mark Lowry Sport Excellence Fund by cheque, care of the Canadian Olympic Committee, 21 St. Clair Avenue E., Suite 900, Toronto, ON, M4T 1L9.