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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Gavin Leishman, Sheila Kealey never too old for a sporting experience

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Back in the 1990s, the CJOH (now CTV Ottawa) sportscast included a special feature every Friday night honouring dedicated and athletic mature-aged citizens, who loved to exercise and participate in sports.

The late Bill Patterson created the segment called You’re Never Too Old and his warm storytelling style made it a must-see item every week.

Well, it’s almost Friday and High Achievers: Stay-Safe Edition thought it would be appropriate to revisit the idea and connect with Patterson’s passion. We’re putting the spotlight on a pair of today’s You’re-Never-Too-Old sports figures from Ottawa.

Gavin Leishman and Sheila Kealey have gone beyond the call of duty in their given fields. They have the energy and enthusiasm to keep doing something they love, which allows them to stay healthy and inspire others.

Leishman, 81, has spent most of the later half of his life involved with the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame, which is located in the lobby of the Nepean Sportsplex. Earlier this week, it was announced Leishman was stepping down as chair of the hall’s board of directors on Jan. 2, 2022.

Kealey, 57, coaches the young University of Ottawa Gee-Gees nordic ski team, which competed in last weekend’s Eastern Canada/Candy Cane cross-country ski championships at Nakkertok Ski Club. Not only did she perform all of her tiring coaching jobs over three days, but also she decided to enter the women’s 10-kilometre interval classic race. To top off her championship, she posted a surprising result.

When Leishman became the chair of the Nepean Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 1985, he wanted to celebrate the best athletes, coaches and builders in Nepean by creating the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame.


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Gavin Leishman. Photo provided

He volunteered tirelessly for 36 years with the wall of fame and saw 82 women and men inducted onto their place of honour. In the past three years, he spearheaded a movement to give the wall of fame a new look in an area of prominence at the Sportsplex, introduced an interactive kiosk to tell the story of each inductee, and held a virtual induction ceremony in October.

“It has been a real honour and privilege to take the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame from an idea in 1985 to what it is today, a remarkable visual presentation of Nepean sports history, something all of Nepean can be most proud of,” Leishman said in a press release.

David Rattray, who joined the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame board in 2001 and has served as a community coach for many years, has been appointed the board chair to replace Leishman. He will serve a two-year term. Leishman will remain as past chair on the board until Dec. 31, 2023.

“Gavin hands over the leadership in excellent shape that will allow it to move to new thresholds,” Rattray said. “It can continue to capture and celebrate Nepean’s rich sports history and achievements.

“Because of Gavin’s leadership, the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame will continue to be a world-class organization. Gavin leaves a remarkable legacy and I will do my best to continue in his footsteps as best I can.”

When Sheila Kealey travelled to the Nakkertok Ski Club in Cantley, Que., for the Eastern Canada/Candy Cane cross-country ski championships, the first major nordic event in the area in 21 months, she was a coach first and possibly a skier second.

If she could complete all of her coaching duties for the six men, four women and one para skier on the Gee-Gees team, which included a lot of ski waxing over three days, she would put on her racing skis.

“As a coach, you depend on your support crew and ours was small. We worked from 6 a.m. to the evening preparing the skis. I did that Friday, Saturday and Sunday before my race,” Kealey said.

“It probably wasn’t my best (race) preparation. I entered the event, if everything went well. The athletes were my first priority. It would be a bonus, if I could race.”

When it was time to charge onto the 2.5-kilometre loop and use the classic style to cover it four times, Kealey put her coaching responsibilities to the side and assumed her athlete attitude. During normal cross-country ski seasons, Kealey will race up to 10 times a year. She regularly places well in the Gatineau Loppet.

Kealey finished 10th in the Eastern Canada/Candy Cane open women’s race, covering 10 kilometres in 33 minutes, 12.5 seconds in the field of 22 skiers. The winning time of 28:05.3 was posted by Chelsea Nordiq’s Laura Leclair, who is 24 years old.

As she raced over the course, Kealey also had a chance to check with her Gee-Gees athletes. This feature added a new perspective to her coaching portfolio.

“I was happy and excited,” she said about being in the start hut waiting to challenge the course. “I don’t get nervous. It’s such a privilege to do that.

“Once you have the (racing) bib on and you’re on the course, you’re an athlete again. Overall, it was good considering my warmup was not ideal.”

Kealey races because she loves to put on her skis and take on the course, her peers and the clock. Age is only a number and doesn’t slow her down.

“I love racing. It keeps me motivated and allows me to be a better coach, especially if I’m on the course and I can see what the course is like,” she explained.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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 “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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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