Ice sledge hockey heroes take part in Pan Am Games torch relay

On the 20th day of the Toronto Pan-Am Games Torch Relay, a pair of encouraging and empowering female athletes had the chance to participate. Having competed for the Canadian national women’s team in ice sledge hockey, Jessie Gregory and Tuyet Morris Yurczyszyn were among a group of over 3,000 well-deserving individuals selected to participate in the nationwide relay.

Of note, Gregory and Morris Turczyszyn were not the only ice sledge hockey players recognized during the torch relay. On Day 12 (June 10), the torch covered a wide range of territory from Parry Sound to Barrie. During this trek, Midland’s North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre welcomed Adam Dixon, who earned a bronze medal with the Canadian men’s ice sledge hockey team at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.

Specifications for the Torch include a length of 65 cm and a weight of 1.2 kg, composed of aluminum. The burn time is an average of 10 to 12 minutes’ burn time while being able to withstand winds up to 70 km/h. United We Play! Pictograms highlights the visual display, renditions of people in motion, punctuating the focus of the Games’ assembly of athletes while celebrating key values including culture and sport.

Both ice sledge hockey heroes were also donned in the obligatory uniform. Just like the torch, the United We Play pictograms were prominently displayed on said uniform, once again emphasizing culture and sport, a special amalgamation of the true meaning of the Games.

Day 20 saw the torch relay go through the communities of Kitchener, Cambridge, Brantford, Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Burlington. Starting at THEMUSEUM, the relay subsequently found its way at the Cambridge Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, where Morris Yurczyszyn was one of the torch bearers.

In Brantford, the torch was in the hands of a local figure skater at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre where she courageously skated with it. Visiting the New Credit First Nation in Mississauga, the official Host First Nation of the Games, Day 20 concluded in Burlington at Spencer Smith Park. Gregory proudly carried the torch in Brantford, joined by other torch bearers including Gretzky, figure skater Mary Orr, wrestling champion Madison Parks and marathon runner Krista DuChene.

Proud participants Tuyet Morris Yurczyszyn and Jessie Gregory (Image obtained from Facebook)

Proud participants Tuyet Morris Yurczyszyn and Jessie Gregory (Image obtained from Facebook)

Although both come from different backgrounds and heritage, their mutual love of hockey led to a remarkable friendship that has culminated with spots on the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team. The chance to participate together in the torch relay contributes to another proud chapter in their friendship; displaying how sport can help bring positive outcomes to people’s lives and help overcome challenges.

Also teammates on the Brantford Crushers, the younger Gregory helped mentor Morris Yurczyszyn when she first started the sport. Very talented at multiple sports, Gregory is equally adept on the hardcourt in wheelchair basketball and on the green grass of both wheelchair tennis and golf, respectively.

Having emigrated to Canada as an orphan from Vietnam in 1975, Morris Yurczyszyn is a proud mother of two whose rise to prominence as an ice sledge hockey player represents the Canadian dream. A lifelong hockey fan, she grew up in the community of Brantford, Ontario, home of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Two of Gretzky’s younger brothers, Glenn and Keith both knew Morris Yurczyszyn (she went to high school with Keith). Of note, the Gretzky connection would also extend to her experience in the Pan Am torch relay. Patriarch Walter Gretzky was another deserving choice to participate in the torch relay, adding to the day’s jubilation.
Getting the chance to meet both Morris Yurczyszyn and Gregory, it only strengthened the sense of pride that defined a memorable day in their amazing careers.

Akin to the Olympic torch that is part of the Summer and Winter Games, the Pan Am Games torch carries the same profound meaning for its athletes and fans alike. Taking into account that Vancouver hosted the 2010 edition of the Vancouver Winter Games, the Pan Am experience in 2015 is one that shall strengthen the unity of Canadian sports fans.