Videos: Debbie Van Kiekebelt, Athletics

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The problems facing the international athletes when I was competing were huge because there were no facilities, there was no money, and there was also this feeling that athletes, you know they ran around the block, they trained a couple of hours a week, that was it. I think that the athletes of my generation were the first that really took fitness and training to a whole new level. We were called amateur athletes but we really felt that we were on the cusp of being professional.

I was very excited about the Pan Am Games because I had competed in the Canadian Championships and I became the first woman to ever go over 5,000 points in the Pentathlon, which had previously always been you know Russian women, German women. So this was a really inspiring I think motivating thing that happened to me before the games. So I planned going out and winning. Now that didn’t mean when I got there I wasn’t concerned, but it was a fabulous experience. It was also my first big international games and you really have to get – I’d been to the British Commonwealth Games the year before but this was where I really felt I had a chance. So you really had to learn how to concentrate, let all of that go and just really focus on what you were doing.

When I won the Gold medal I remember being incredibly proud to be a Canadian, and that joy, and I know many athletes since have talked about it, but the joy to stand on the podium and have your National Anthem played and your flag raised is quite overwhelming.

Winning the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award was spectacular, wonderful. I was extremely proud and surprised. I was training at the CNE in the sheep building when these two gentlemen came to the sheep building with this trophy, probably as big as I was, about six feet tall and told me that I had won Woman Athlete of the Year. I lived in Mississauga and I took the GO Train every day to training back and forth. So I had to go to the Go Train with this six-foot trophy, carry it on the GO Train and I’m sitting there after training for four hours, you know sweat pouring off my face and my track suit, and I felt like I was you know on a Seinfeld Episode or that commercial with Andy Roddick, you know where he’s got his trophy on the plane. So I’m sitting on the GO Train, and nobody wants to say anything and I’ve got my head down, and finally someone said, “What is that?” And I said, “Oh I was just named Canada’s Woman Athlete of the Year”. The next thing I know everybody’s crowding around me so the whole train trip to my destination when I got off was exceptionally special because everybody asked me about competing for Canada, the Pan Am Games, the Olympics, what this award meant. So by the time I got off the train I felt like a million dollars. And it was a very special night and I to this day feel that it’s one of the best honours I’ve ever had.

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