Before Spencer O’Brien shuffled her snowboard to the brink of the starting drop-off in Sunday’s Winter Olympics slopestyle finals, she was already a winner in the eyes of those in the small community where she was born.
A 12th-place finish in those finals didn’t change that.
The community of Alert Bay pulled out all the stops last weekend to honour O’Brien, the two-time reigning world champion in women’s slopestyle. It is a challenging, hybrid event combining sliding on rails, like those found at neighbourhood skateboard parks, with acrobatic jumps.
O’Brien’s Olympic scores were undone when she touched down unevenly on two of those jumps, and the medals in the event were hung around the necks of others.
But if medals were awarded for inspiring a community, she would have been on the top step of the podium.
“What I’m hoping to get out of this is inspiration for our young people,” Val Hunt said as she helped decorate the local Rec Centre for a public viewing of the finals. “I hope this lifts them up to follow their dreams.”
As a small, remote and largely First Nations community, Alert Bay can benefit from role models like O’Brien, who has already proven herself among the world’s elite in her sport, regardless of Sunday’s shaky landings.
She may have moved as a child to Courtenay and, later, to Vancouver to be nearer the training facilities offered at Whistler Ski Resort.
But last weekend showed O’Brien remains Alert Bay’s child, and the village shared her dreams and goals as family.