Greater Toronto Area track prodigy Sarah Wells adds Pan Am silver to promising career

Having competed in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Wells can now boast of a Pan Am Games silver medal. Competitive throughout the race, Wells finished second to Shamier Little, while Deborah Rodriguez of Uruguay earned bronze. Of note, Wells’ time in the race at CIBC Athletics Stadium was an impressive 56.17.

Upon crossing the finish line, she proudly adorned her back with the Canadian flag, running a celebratory lap while being showered with applause. As a side note, her semifinal time on the day prior was 56.77 seconds, placing second.
Leading into the Pan Am Games, Wells’ image, jumping over an imaginary hurdle, with her blonde hair flowing in the background, were plastered on a banner outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre. She was quickly known as the “Face of the Pan Am Games.”

Raised in Unionville, Ontario (not far from 100 meter gold medalist Andre DeGrase who grew up in neighboring Markham), she ran in front of 20 to 30 proud family members in the stands, cheering her on. Of note, she was featured at 17 years of age in the Toronto Star. In 2007, she had qualified for the Canadian team that played in Brazil’s Pan-Am Junior Finals, with a time of 1.00:37 in the 400-meter hurdles.

As one of the stars of Unionville High School’s track and field team, she advanced to the Ontario track and field finals in her senior year. In regional competition, she had earned first place in three track competitions including the 400m hurdles, 100m hurdles and the winning 4×400 relay (of which she was the anchor).

Recognized as Unionville High’s track and field MVP for three straight years, Wells also excelled in field hockey. Complementing such a distinguished track career at the high school level was the fact that she broke the Canadian Youth under-17 record of 59.48 seconds in the 400m hurdles in June 2006. During her high school years, she would also practice at York University, the site of her silver medal run in the Pan Am Games.

Equally accomplished in the class room, her career took her to internationally renowned University of Toronto. Back in 2004, she was invited by the university to participate in its junior development program. At the 2013 Summer Universiade, she proudly represented the University (where she studies physical education and kinesiology) as she helped Canada gain the silver in the 4 x 400-meter hurdle relay.

During her preparation for the Pan Am Games, she participated in a series of tests where she lined up in starting blocks affixed to custom-made force plates, providing research information for grad student Lindsay Musalem. Working with other University of Toronto track athletes, the plates were used for the first time to gather data as the start is the most crucial aspect to success in sprinting, Looking to see if sprinters such as Wells can reproduce strong starts, Musalem was measuring the velocity of sprinters launching from the start blocks, while also determining the exertion of force in numerous directions.

The most admirable aspect of her remarkable run to the silver was the fact that she has bounced back from injury more than once. Prior to the 2012 London Summer Games, Wells was shelved for nine months, after a stress fracture diagnosis on her left femur. The bigger challenge was being able to return to her previous fitness level while maintaining her psychological toughness. A strong belief in herself, plus a strong support network was accentuated as she wrote the word “Believe” on her palm at London, waving to the crowd proudly.

After competition in 2014, the femur endured another stress fracture and nearly did not appear at the Pan Am Games after a tear in her hamstring. As devastating as it was, Wells proved why she is such a world class athlete overcoming adversity. The support of the League Group was an exceptional source of encouragement, helping her build on a remarkable level of fitness. It is an effort that she tries to reciprocate as a co-founder of the Fearless Action Challenge, empowering young girls to stand up to peer pressure while utilizing physical activity as a source of confidence.

Through great determination and perseverance, she managed to rebound and capture a fourth Canadian title in 2015. Contested in Edmonton, the Canadian championships took place just four days prior to the start of the Pan Am Games. As a side note, Wells managed to improve on her time, running faster than she had in practice with a time of 56.03, just 38 seconds off her personal best of 55.65.

Sportsnet Magazine’s Beauty in Sport Issue captures the essence with several captivating athletes

With photo shoots ranging throughout Canada and a rigorous five day shoot in Las Vegas, Sportsnet Magazine released its second annual Beauty in Sport issue. Although some critics could dismiss the publication as competition for the ESPN Body Issue, the reality is that both give the opportunity to spotlight female athletes who toil in anonymity for little recognition.

As Sportsnet is a Canadian periodical published by Rogers, the athletes featured between the covers are all Canadian. With 28 athletes featured, 19 are female. While even the most dedicated sports fan would have difficulty identifying the names of the female athletes (and the sport they compete in), their beauty and sex appeal is only part of the package.

The one common factor among all athletes is injuries, and bumps and bruises were evident with some of the athletes. X-Games world champion Kelsey Serwa arrived with a swollen knee due to surgery. Canadian soccer sweethearts Kaylyn Klye and Emily Zurrer both had scrapes up to their thighs.

In being an athlete, the commitment involved takes great desire, and the discipline and dedication required is a unique quality. Their hard work and character displays a very strong, rugged yet admirable inner beauty that makes them role models for all athletes, male or female.

While publisher Steve Maich acknowledged that it was different working with athletes because they were not models, he was also quick to acknowledge that all the athletes were likeable people. Although many of the female athletes are not household names, there was a few that certainly left their mark in the world of sport.

Competing in the cross-country mountain biking competition at London 2012, Brooklin, Ontario’s Emily Batty was the cover girl for the issue. The blonde beauty did not medal at London, but she certainly captured the hearts and minds of many sports fans with her magnetic smile on the cover.

Three females were gold medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games; Kallie Humphries, Tessa Virtue and Meaghan Mikkelson. While all three come from very different sporting backgrounds – bobsleigh, ice dancing and ice hockey – all three are authentic Canadian heroes.

Mikk Meaghan Mikkelson

Another trio of heroes highlighted the females featured in the Beauty of Sport. A tantalizing trio of members from Canada’s soccer team that gained bronze at the 2012 London Summer Games was photographed in Las Vegas. Featuring Kaylyn Klye, Lauren Sesselmann and Emily Zurrer, all three donned their swimsuits while a dolphin would leap in the background behind them.

Rugby teammates Barbara Mervin and Brittany Waters also exchanged their shorts and jerseys for swimsuits. Mervin, 31 and Waters, 30 are also members of the British Columbia provincial rugby team. The dynamic duo was photographed together at the MGM Grand and the Neon Museum.

Barbara Mervin and Brittany Waters

Barbara Mervin and Brittany Waters

Of note, Mervin is accustomed to the camera. Having played with the national team since 2004, she was also part of a nude calendar in 2012 that featured members of Canada’s women’s rugby team.

While she leaves enough for the imagination, it is important to emphasize that Swervin Mervin (as she is affectionately known) is more than just beautiful. There is an even greater beauty beneath the surface. Having transitioned from 15s to 7s, she spends a remarkable five hours a day in training. She is an empowering woman whose great sense of teamwork, assistance with summer camps and coaching at the University of Victoria comprise makes her a role model for young women looking to get into sport.

Of all the athletes that ventured down to Las Vegas, the most unique may have been Summer Mortimer.
Mortimer Summer Mortimer

After a trampoline accident caused significant damage to the bones in her feet, she displayed great courage by learning to swim again. Having won four medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, she was one of Canada’s sweethearts at the event. Along with five world records in para-swimming, she was also named an Athlete Ambassador for the 2015 Toronto Parapan Games. Appropriately, she grew up near Toronto in Burlington. At 20 years old, not only does she conduct herself with a quiet dignity and grace that makes her an admirable athlete, but she was one of the youngest athletes featured in the publication.

While she is the first paralympic athlete to appear in the Beauty of Sport, it is worth noting that the ESPN Body Issue has also featured physically challenged athletes. As Swimming World Magazine stated in a review of Mortimer appearing in the issue, athletes are not only a vision of health, but these kinds of photo shoots promote a healthy lifestyle and set a positive example.

Six other athletes were photographed at Las Vegas. Among the group, it included volleyball player Claire Hanna, a three-time CIS national champion with the UBC Thunderbirds. Forty year-old curler Heather Smith-Dacey and Kelsey Serwa, who competed in the Ski Cross at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games was photographed at Red Rock Canyon.

World Cup skeleton champion Melissa Hollingsworth, a bronze medalist from the Torino Winter Games was photographed at the MGM Grand. Joining her at the venue was 2012 FIS World Cup gold medal skier Erin Mielzynski.

Four other athletes from this remarkable group of women were photographed in Toronto. A pair of track and field sensations, Brianne Theisen and Phylicia George was photographed at Monarch Park. George finished in the 100 meter hurdles at London 2012, while Theisen competed in the Heptathlon.
Sarah Wells, a competitor in the 400-meter hurdles at London 2012 modeled Nike (like George) for her photo shoot. Taylor Pischke, a beach volleyball player with six Canadian national titles was photographed wearing Miss Jackson swimwear at Ashbridges Bay.

Credit goes to Maich who acknowledged that compared to other countries, Canada needed to do a better job at elevating their athletes to star status. While fans may already be anticipating the 2014 edition, there is no question that the athletes featured are helping to shed a positive light on Canadian sport.

Photos of Summer Mortimer, Barbara Mervin and Brittany Waters and Meaghan Mikkelson by Matt Barnes