By Martin Cleary
Like mother, like daughter.
When Joyce (Willis) Rampton was a young girl, she played hockey with the boys in rural Manitoba in the 1950s. She also loved to go head-to-head against them in skating races for prize money.
A number of years later while living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with husband Dr. Vern Rampton, she discovered another sport involving blades and ice – speed skating. She was mesmerized by it and fully embraced it, when they moved to Carp in 1969.
While Joyce was getting familiar with speed skating and coaching, she introduced their oldest daughter Shannon to her new winter obsession. Speed skating was perfect for Shannon, who showed early talent and almost made the 1984 Canadian Olympic team for the Games in Sarajevo.
Shannon, who earned her Bachelor of Science with a medical emphasis from the University of Guelph and her doctorate in chiropractic medicine at Logan Chiropractic College in St. Louis before practising in Hilton Head, North Carolina and Carp, passed away Feb. 9 in Guelph. She was 56.
At the 1971 Huntley Winter Carnival, Shannon, who had just turned six years old, was a standout skater. Not only did she win the girls’ six-and-under race on the Carp skating rink, but also she placed first in the 10-and-under and 12-and-under sprints.
Charlene Johnston, who finished second in the girls’ 12-and-under race, wrote that Shannon “was amazing, such natural talent.” (Johnston started Carp Valley Vintage on Facebook in April as a COVID-19 project, posting newspaper clippings and photos from 1900-2000.)
For the next six years, Shannon developed her skills, while Joyce slowly built the West Carleton Speed Skating Club with a couple dozen members, and convinced local firefighters to clear and flood the skating oval around the Carp Fairground hockey rink.
Joyce also took her best skaters, including Shannon, to Ottawa to train with the Ottawa Pacers at Balena Park. When Shannon was seven, she attended the Canadian indoor championships and won bronze medals in the girls’ peewee 100- and 300-metre races.
But by age 12, Shannon’s interest in speed skating waned. And it wasn’t until the Arnprior Speed Skating Club started two years later that she seriously reconnected with the sport. She joined the Pacers and took her career to new levels.
In 1982, she was selected by the Ontario Amateur Speed Skating Association to attend a six-week training camp in Lake Placid, New York, (all expenses paid, academic tutor included) with national head coach Jack Watters and Ontario coach Ian Henniger.
Based on that camp, Shannon was selected to Ontario’s team for the 1983 Canada Winter Games in Chicoutimi along with Pacers’ teammates Chantal Cote, Katharine Hare, Tanja Graham and Lisa Sablatash as well as Heather Flett of Cambridge.
Shannon, who excelled in basketball and volleyball at Earl of March Secondary School where she graduated as an Ontario scholar, also was named to the national B team and an alternate for the Canadian 1984 Winter Olympic Games team.
Strong, agile, enthusiastic and possessing a great sense of humour, Shannon tapped into her mother’s competitive spirit for speed skating and took herself to the doorstep of the Olympic Games.
Her father Vern didn’t often get the opportunity to see Shannon skate, but there was that bitter cold year the family attended the Canadian championships in Saskatoon. The temperature was minus 30C, and it felt much colder with the wind chill.
“She burnt her lungs out in that race and got athlete’s asthma,” Vern said in an interview. “Somewhere along the line after the Saskatoon event, she got mono and that ended her career.”
At a national-level competition in Regina during the 1984 Olympics, she posted three personal-best times: 500 metres, 45.90 seconds; 1,000 metres, 1:35.40; and 1,500 metres, 2:29.47. A month earlier, she skated a 5:33.1 PB in Ottawa for 3,000 metres.
“Her desire to do well in speed skating was clear,” Michel van Musschenbroek posted in a tribute to Shannon, who also was part of a Canadian women’s soccer team which took part in the 2013 World Masters Games in Torino, Italy.
Shannon believed in organ donation and four people have benefited from one of her final wishes.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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