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The impact of the HBC Athlete Bursary

The 50 Canadian athletes who received the first annual HBC Bursary in 2016 proved they are some of Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls, many of them competing at Rio 2016 or on the world circuit preparing for PyeongChang 2018.

The bursary program, which was announced by the HBC Foundation and the Canadian Olympic Foundation this past May, awards $10,000 to 50 of Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls every year for five years – a source of much-needed sustainable funding for high-performance athletes. The $2.5 million investment by the HBC Foundation helps provide bursary recipients with the high-performance resources they need to develop to their full potential. The money can be used at the discretion of the athlete – for personal expenses like rent and transportation, or for performance expenses like accessing proper nutrition and coaching.

For the inaugural year of the bursary, 50 recipients were selected from over 500 applicants. They are from all over Canada, and are a mix of Olympic veterans and hopefuls; the 22 men and 28 women represent 31 sports.

Rio 2016

Several of the HBC Bursary winners had Canadian Olympic best performances at Rio 2016. Gold medallist Erica Wiebe won Canada’s third ever medal in wrestling; gymnast Ellie Black came fifth in the all-around artistic gymnastics competition, Canada’s best-ever result; and Taylor Ruck and Emily Overholt won bronze medals on the freestyle swimming relay teams that sparked Canada’s success at the Olympic Games.

Team Canada’s women’s swimming team had an incredible Olympic Games. Emily Overholt, third from the right in the above photo, helped win the electrifying 200m Freestyle Relay bronze medal. But to get to Rio 2016, Emily had a lot of personal costs. Thanks to the HBC Bursary, she was able to train her hardest so she could compete against the best in the world.

“Groceries are by far my biggest expense. The HBC Bursary has allowed me to reach my dietary goals on a weekly basis. With the funds provided by HBC, I am able to maintain a healthy diet to allow me to perform at the highest level.”

Leading up to Rio 2016, gymnast Ellie Black experienced some minor ankle injuries. The Halifax native trains at her local gym, and says the sport is more prominent in larger provinces than in Nova Scotia, resulting in a limited amount of funding. Thanks to the HBC Bursary, she was able to help her home club purchase equipment that helped her stay healthy and get ready for the Olympic Games – and subsequently helped enhance the training environment of next generation gymnasts at her club.

“The HBC funding helped a lot for me this year leading up to Rio. It helped with the purchase of a new floor for our gym which was a really big thing for the health of my ankles and training and my body and to prepare on the floor that was going to be in Rio.”

Chaim Schalk competed at Rio 2016 in beach volleyball with his partner, Ben Saxton. A native of Red Deer, Alberta, Chaim and Ben decided when they began playing together four years ago that they would train in California during the winter leading up to the beach volleyball world tour that occurs during the spring and summer. They have to pay expenses like accommodation, airfare to travel all over the world during the world tour, in addition to paying their coach’s salary and travel costs to join them.

Chaim says, “The HBC Bursary was huge for me, it came at such a good time, going into the Olympic season and the costs that accumulate for an Olympic athlete like me, playing in the World Tour and competing every week basically in a different place. It makes me feel like I can focus more on training and not as much on how I’m going to get the funds to get through a season.”

PyeongChang 2018

With only 14 months until PyeongChang 2018, Canadian athletes are gearing up for an important winter season. In 2016, many HBC Bursary athletes dominated the world stage, igniting Canada’s Olympic dreams for the upcoming Winter Games.

Mikaël Kingsbury is only 24, but he has already set the record for the most World Cup wins by a freestyle mogul skier (33), won an Olympic silver medal, and won five consecutive FIS Crystal Globes; the award presented to the overall World Cup champion. The only thing missing from his extensive trophy collection is an Olympic gold medal – but the HBC Bursary is helping him prepare to qualify for PyeongChang 2018, where he is likely to have a second chance at gold.

He uses the HBC Bursary to cover expenses like nutrition and travel. “I try to keep my body in good shape so I want to eat well, I don’t want to be cheap on food. I live pretty far from the gym where I train, so first I have to take my car every morning and drive through the traffic of Montreal and it can be pretty painful, at the end of the week it costs a lot in gas. It’s all that that makes us compete at our best and I think it helped me a lot.”

Last winter, two-time Olympic gold medallist Kaillie Humphries won the bobsleigh World Cup with brakewoman Melissa Lotholz. Melissa, a former track and field athlete, switched to bobsleigh in 2014. Her strength and speed fast-tracked her to be the number-one brakewoman in Canada; immediately, she was tapped to be in Kaillie Humphries’ sled. To make sure she’s the best in the world leading up to PyeongChang 2018, she used the HBC Bursary to pay for things like physiotherapy, massage, and daily living expenses.

“My sport comes down to .001 sometimes, which is faster than the normal blink of an eye. So everything matters, making sure everything is aligned and all your muscles are ready and fired. Being able to have that kind of support while I train means those hundredths of a second. It’s been great to have HBC as part of my team so that as a unit we can push towards this dream and this goal.”

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This season was about a rebuild. I wanted to rebuild my body, rebuild my confidence and rebuild my love for skating.(Disclaimer: long post.) It started in April with our awesome physiotherapist, @jennydelich1. I was going to physio twice a week to fix my bum shoulder and back so I could a) train without pain and b) train with confidence. It was a lot of work and discipline (and pain) but I cannot express how appreciative I am of all the hard work Jenny does dealing with, not only me, but the entire Canadian team. And then in June there was the hiring of our new coach, Kevin Crockett. Olympic medals, world championships, world records – as a skater and coach he has done it all and together we retooled my technique and built an engine geared for consistency and longevity through the year. It paid off and with good results in the Fall, the plan paid dividends in the Winter and I felt even stronger in the second half of the season. I'm excited for the upcoming summer and what we can do next season! Last but not least, there were new, old and even some foreign teammates in the group this year but ya'll made it an absolute pleasure coming to training every day. Thank you @williedutton, @jthenks, @rdmacker, Mikhail, @heathmclean, @marshahudey, @jessgregg and a massive 고맙습니다, ありがとうございました and kiitos (thank you) to our friends from overseas, @sanghwazz, @tsumaki0427 and @mikapoutala! You three are world class athletes and people and we Canadians are so grateful for what you shared with us this past season. Hope to make more memories with you all soon! Perspective is an amazing thing and looking back to that first physio appointment in April, if you were to tell me I was going to finish 3rd in World Cup Rankings I might have laughed. There were ups and downs but this season has been a memorable one. There are only two more years until the next Olympics and I am excited to build on the momentum that our team has started. But first!… The offseason! #thesweatlife #pbcm #teamaclaro #themaindish

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At Sochi 2014, long-track speed skater Gilmore Junio gave up his spot in the 1,000m final to teammate Denny Morrison, who went on and won the silver medal. Since then, Gilmore has been pushing himself to become one of the best in the world. Last year, he came third in the 500m World Cup Overall ranking, and plans on staying consistently in the top eight of world cup 500m events this season leading up to the PyeongChang 2018 qualifiers next year.

The HBC Bursary helped him afford new equipment going into this important season, and also allowed him to take time to recover during the summer rather than work a job. “Having the bursary and being involved in the HBC program has given me the peace of mind to relentlessly pursue the process of leaving no stone unturned. This year one of the things the bursary went towards was getting a mountain bike and having that source of training. I didn’t work this summer so I was able to put more effort into being a 24/7 athlete.”

He explains that as a high-performance athlete, finances can be a stress. The HBC Bursary helps Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls focus on training and improving rather than making ends meet. Gilmore says, “Instead of being worried about how I’m going to pay rent next month or how I’m going to pay for the skates or the blades, I’m able to be comfortable giving up the resources to attain the things that are going to make me faster. And the peace of mind and having that equipment is so beneficial.”