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Then & Now in Sport

Sport has evolved in many ways from the equipment to uniforms, to the number of opportunities and so much more. Sport has brought joy and growth over numerous years in Aurora. It can have a tremendous positive impact on physical and mental well-being, community collaboration and the building future leaders.

Town of Aurora is collaborating with the Aurora Sports Hall of Fame and Local Sport Organizations to bring you Then & Now in Sport. A project that will highlight the experiences of Hall of Fame Honoured Members, as well as previous and current athletes in Aurora through 2022. 

The first of four themes will highlight a number of females across multiple sports, their experiences, how it impacted them and how they have seen sport change with time. Be sure to read more about our past and current athletes, coaches and community sport leaders, and learn more about the many opportunities to participate in sport now. 

As well, this is the time to recognize contributions that many women made to sport in the community. Aurora Sports Hall of Fame is currently accepting nominations for the 2022 class of inductees. The deadline to nominate is April 1, 2022, be sure to visit Aurora Sports Hall of Fame to learn more. 

Thank you for all the contributors to our Then & Now in Sport initiative.


Then & Now in Sport – Women & Girls in Sport 

Sport has evolved from multiple dimensions, but even more so for women and girls. The numbers of females participating in sport has increased, they have taken on more roles in sport and respect for the talent that women bring to the industry is improving. What has not changed is the drive and passion of women to make sport a better place to grow, be a leader and have fun. Sport is so fortunate to have the following women and girls engaged, so do not miss the opportunity to hear their story.

Read in their own words below.


Cal Bouchard – Then in Sport

Photo of Cal Bouchard

"Sport has given me so much: lifelong friends; skills that transferred into a successful business career; and most fundamentally, a healthier body and mind to help me get through the last two challenging years."

Cal Bouchard - In Her Own Words

When I played basketball as a young girl, I did it because it was fun. It was fun to play with my friends at school or on the playground. It was fun to shoot on my own at the park. I did it because I loved it, it made me feel good. I loved being part of a team, contributing to something bigger than myself, and working hard for others. I recognize it was easy back then for me: school and rep teams abounded; Aurora playgrounds, gyms, and safe spaces were easy to find; I didn’t have to juggle and job and school; and most importantly the pressures of social media or a worldwide pandemic were the reality only in sci-fi movies. 

As I’ve grown older, after a college, professional, and Olympic career, I realized how grateful I am for those opportunities as a young girl. Sport, fitness and movement still make me feel good, but now I understand logically why they do. Research tells us that exercise is fundamental to long-term physical health, that participation in sports for young girls boosts self-esteem and confidence, and that exercise is clearly linked to positive mental health outcomes and is even more effective than prescription drugs in helping us through anxiety and depression. 

Sport has given me so much: lifelong friends; skills that transferred into a successful business career; and most fundamentally, a healthier body and mind to help me get through the last two challenging years. 

For young girls: I encourage you to try sport and exercise, and think about what makes you feel good about it. If you love practicing at a high level, great; if you only really like the games, no problem; if you just enjoy hanging out with your friends, fine; just try and stick with it. Trust me. 

For parents, administrators, coaches, and builders of sport: It may be more difficult than ever for us to encourage girls to participate in sport, but given the times we live in, it might be more important than ever that we do.

Siera Zicaro – Now in Sport

Photo of Siera Ziraco

"Being a part of a team makes me realize that everyone has some sort of power to contribute to the overall goal. It shows me that we are all a part of something bigger, prioritizing what we can accomplish as a team, over what I want to accomplish individually."

Siera Zicaro - In Her Own Words

Basketball is something I’ve been involved with my whole life. I have been in an active environment since I could walk, and I started playing basketball at the age of 4 in the YNBA Learn to Play program, which focused on developing skills through games. This created a positive and fun environment around the game. I then started to play rep basketball when I was 8 years old with the YNBA and continue to this day. 

It is well known that the game has immense physical assets. However, basketball is not only been good for my physical health, but also for my mental well-being. It has helped create a safe space for me to clear my mind and re-focus. As well, it has provided a positive and supportive community within my team and coaches. Being a part of a team is important to me because it has created strong relationships for me with some of my closest friends. Our friendships off the court help contribute to our success on the court. It’s because I’ve been surrounded by all these people that I’ve experienced some of my best memories, including hotels, tournaments, and even just practices. Overall, being a part of a team makes me realize that everyone has some sort of power to contribute to the overall goal. It shows me that we are all a part of something bigger, prioritizing what we can accomplish as a team, over what I want to accomplish individually. 

I’ve also found that playing has also made me grow as a person, not only as a player. I’ve discovered many life lessons through playing, that continue to help in everyday life. One of these is how hard work can help dictate your future. I observed this in 2019 when my team had the opportunity to play at the Toronto Raptors training facility. Part of this involved listening to some of the NBA players speak. It really made me understand how many of them were only in their position because they were willing to push harder than everyone else, “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard”. It doesn't matter how good you are now, only how good you want to be in the future. 

In the end, I’m very grateful for the experience basketball has given me. I’ve had the ability to create some amazing memories and learned many things along the way that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I recommend anyone to give the sport a try, because I guarantee that everyone will enjoy it. After all, basketball is really just shoes, a ball, and a hoop.

Lois Thompson – Then in Sport

Photo of Lois Thompson

"By educating our coaches, officials and administrators through making use of the clinics and all other resources that are now available, we are now able to give each player the best opportunity, over time, to reach their potential, whatever that might be."

Lois Thompson - In Her Own Words

For years the sport of softball was played by one set of rules, no matter what the age of the player. 

As time progressed the people playing softball became younger and younger, but still only had rules designed for adults. 

Over the years, the rules for the game of softball have been modified for the younger players so that there is lots of action, fun and success for all ages and ability levels. Not only are their softball skills developed, but also their physical literacy through informal playground activities. 

By educating our coaches, officials and administrators through making use of the clinics and all other resources that are now available, we are now able to give each player the best opportunity, over time, to reach their potential, whatever that might be – club, regional, provincial, national or even at the international level. 

Through providing recreational and competitive programs, our young athletes are taught the values of competition, to make a commitment, to work hard, to strive to be the best that they can be as a person and as an athlete. 

Although all sport programs over the past two years have been very restricted and have not been able provide full programs, we are hoping that this year is going to be different and the young people will be able to once again take advantage of all the sport programs available.

Jenna Martin – Now in Sport

Photo of Jenna Martin

"Softball is the thing in my life that fills me with excitement when I think about it. All winter, every winter, I hold my breath for the weather to heat up so that I can throw on my cleats, step on the diamond once again and finally call it ball season."

Jenna Martin - In Her Own Words

From House league to select to rep to Team Ontario, softball has always been my focus and has shaped me into the person I am today. Softball has given me so many unforgettable experiences while creating life-long friends. Some of my favourite experiences include: the Six Flags Darien Lake Tournament in New York; winning provincials in 2018 with the Aurora Diggers; travelling to Orlando, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia for showcase tournaments with team Ontario; and being invited to Miami, Florida for a camp with Florida International University. All of these exciting experiences motivate me and keep me focused on my goal of achieving a D1 scholarship in the NCAA. 

I love softball so much because it has benefited my life in many different ways. I have made so many memories with some of my favourite people. I have created such a strong bond with my two teams that I consider them family. The sport has given me motivation, drive, confidence and something to work hard for. Softball is the thing in my life that fills me with excitement when I think about it. It has always been one of the main things in my life that makes me happy and it never fails to give me something fun to look forward to. All winter, every winter, I hold my breath for the weather to heat up so that I can throw on my cleats, step on the diamond once again and finally call it ball season. 

Softball has taught me many useful skills that will help me to become successful in the future. The majority of these skills were developed from pitching. Pitching has taught me how to work through situations that may be difficult or stressful. My favourite skills I have developed from pitching include confidence, leadership, motivation, self-regulation, communication skills, teamwork and extroversion. Pitching is the thing that pushes me to become stronger mentally and physically and to continue striving to reach all of my goals.

Poalina Allan – Then in Sport

Photo of Poalina Allan

"Consistent training is the most important thing ... and the most fun!"

Poalina Allan - In Her Own Words

I had no idea what Triathlon was as I was growing up in my teens. One thing I sure did was splash around in the pool, ride my bike everywhere (I did not get my driver’s license until I was 35 years old) and ran for fun. Building a huge fitness base on my own, I was then introduced to various clubs in Aurora, the local Bike Club, the Aurora Master Ducks swim team and a Running Club. 

The first triathlons where introduced in the 1920's originating in France. However, it was not until the late 1970's in San Diego that the sport started to take off. Fast forward to 2000 when triathlon was introduced into the Olympic Games and Canada winning gold. This is when Triathlon had a huge growth in participation. 

Equipment – where to start! Wetsuits, used for swimming, have drastically changed over the years, now with rules on how many millimeters in thickness the fabric can be on certain parts of the body. Bicycles at the Ironman World Championships – here you will not often see a stock store bought bicycle – everything is about aerodynamics and going fast. Many bicycles now have electronic shifting and a very clean makeup with no cables showing at all. 

Lets not forget our trusty running shoes – gone are the plimsolls I would wear – now its carbon plated running shoes that promise to make you 4% faster. 

However, with all the fancy new equipment that is showing up in the world of sport – you will never be able to take away the day to day training. Consistent training is the most important thing ... and the most fun!

Nicole Lau – Now in Sport

Photo of Nicole Lau

"Swimming has made me a better person by helping me become more goal-oriented and efficient in my work."

Nicole Lau - In Her Own Words

Throughout my career in swimming, I have competed at many different levels of competition including the Canadian Swimming Trials and recently, I was selected on the Swim Ontario High-Performance List which consists of the top performers in Ontario. Being able to train almost 20 hours a week requires a lot of sacrifice from my family. Having to drive to practice at 5 in the morning and sometimes leaving as late as 11 at night. 

I love swimming because over the years, I have built a second family, as I spend most of my time at the pool or doing swim-related things, and I think of the pool as my second home. My teammates are my closest friends, as we all have similar life experiences and overcome hard practices together. 

Throughout my career, there have been highs and lows and I am grateful I trusted the process and pushed through the hard times. Swimming at national-level meets has allowed me to travel across Canada and meet new people and expose myself to different cultures around Canada.

Karen Stemmle – Then in Sport

Photo of Karen Stemmle

"I remember being quite shy growing up, but when I was doing any one of these sports, it really made me happy and it helped to build confidence."

Karen Stemmle - In Her Own Words

Lucky me! I was born into a family that loved doing all kinds of sports, in fact, my Dad taught my Mom how to ski on their 1st date. My Dad had been a competitive soccer player and my Mom was quite involved in track and field at the high school level. When my brother, Brian and I were growing up, our parents gave us many opportunities to try many sports including swimming, soccer, baseball, gymnastics, water-skiing, figure skating and of course Alpine Skiing. I remember being quite shy growing up, but when I was doing any one of these sports, it really made me happy and it helped to build confidence. 

What I find quite different nowadays with my 3 teenage children is that at a very young age (10 or 11 years old), sports organizations almost force them to solely concentrate on just one sport. I find that very sad and also shocking. Certain sports organizations make their schedules so rigorous that there isn't an opportunity for young children to participate in a few different sports. Many coaches will discourage young children from doing anything other than that one sport. I find this almost “criminal”. I competed at the provincial level in both figure skating and alpine skiing right up until I was 17 years old. I didn't get bored of just one sport and the conditioning of both sports helped me to not only improve physically, but also mentally. Forcing young children to only train for and compete in 1 sport can lead to injury, boredom, over-training and eventually for many, they will just stop. 

I hope that parents and coaches will continue to encourage a wide variety and range of many different sports for as long as possible. It's so important for kids to have fun and enjoy each sport like we did growing up.

Tresa Vaira – Now in Sport

Photo of Tresa Vaira

"No matter the size of the obstacle, just keep going because it can turn into something that you love."

Tresa Vaira - In Her Own Words

Talent or hard work? Some people are born with talent and others need to work hard to achieve their goals. Karin Stemmle had a combination of both, therefore achieving numerous awards and achievements. That was not the case with me. My name is Tresa Vaira, I'm 17 years old and I have been skating in Aurora for 9 years. 2013 was my first Canskate session with the Aurora Skating Club. As soon as I stepped on the ice I cried out of frustration for not being able to skate fast and gracefully like the older girls. Thank God I had parents that encouraged me to keep going even when running into failure. After many falls, bruises and cries, I decided I won't stop until it's mastered, and the rest is history.

Going back to the question, talent or hard work? Unfortunately, I was not born with the talent of figure skating, and the sport actually came very hard to me. I had to work so much harder than my friends to keep up with the same level. Not being necessarily the best at the sport, it intrigued me to push myself to the limits and see what I would be able to accomplish. As I progressed in the sport I realized that no matter how hard I tried the jumps and spins were not for me, but my coaches and I soon realized my strength was in ice dance, musical interpretation, and Synchro. The beauty in figure skating is that you can really find where you shine no matter your weaknesses.

Figure skating represents to me friendship and teamwork. I have made countless lifetime friends through the sport, oftentimes leaning on each other for support when things get difficult. I have fond memories of traveling for competitions, ice shows, off-ice training, and spending time with the coaches and volunteers at the Aurora Skating Club. The challenge that everyone in sports has recently run into was COVID-19. It has halted careers and achievements with the on and off lockdowns. With rinks being closed, I stopped skating for months at a time and it made me realize how much I love running around the rink with my friends, working on hard skills, and helping out with teaching the next generation of skaters. No matter the size of the obstacle, just keep going because it can turn into something that you love.


Nina Giannotti – Then in Sport

Photo of Nina Giannotti

"The CYGHA has certainly been built from the ground up skill-wise and administratively. I am amazed at the number of teams, levels, and tournaments now sponsored by the league."

Nina Giannotti - In Her Own Words

Women's hockey has come a long way baby! In the late 1960's, the McGill varsity women's hockey team third line were all new to the game. I was one of them. Now the talent pool is such that AAA & Olympic caliber players make up the roster. 

Even in the 1990's when girls' hockey started in Aurora (York Region), most players were new to the game, but they were full of enthusiasm and so excited to play hockey. It started as house league with several age groups combined. Hours and time slots were hard to find. We went to one house league tournament a year with a "select" team that included everyone who could go.

The CYGHA has certainly been built from the ground up skill-wise and administratively. I am amazed at the number of teams, levels, and tournaments now sponsored by the league. I am impressed with the prime ice time, quality of facilities and level of accomplishment teams have achieved in provincial competition.

Society and the sports milieu in general are far more respectful and accommodating to women's sport and the CYGHA has certainly earned its' stripes in helping this happen here in our community.

Check out what Nina’s daughter had to say (Christena Giannotti).


Christena Giannotti – Then & Now in Sport 

Photo of Christena Giannotti

"These days, there isn't a second glance at a female hockey player that comes into the arena. Players are are definitely faster, far more skilled and have access to more and better facilities."

Christena Giannotti - In Her Own Words

"What? You play hockey!"; "Do you play on ice?"; "Do you wear boys skates or girls skates?" – These are some of the typical questions back in the early 1990's that I would get when someone would find out that I played hockey. 

I was 14 when the Aurora Girls' Hockey League first started. It was so exciting and fun playing with my sisters, cousins and local friends; finally learning the game we love together. 

These days, there isn't a second glance at a female hockey player that comes into the arena. Players are definitely faster, far more skilled and have access to more and better facilities. There is a wide variety of opportunities for girls and women of all ages and skills in the present day Central York Girls' Hockey Association. Just take a look at all the championship banners hanging in the SARC arena. 

Now, I continue to enjoy playing in the senior women's division for more than 20 years. This division gives an opportunity for continued play in our community, camaraderie with a balance of work and family life. 

My teammates are very dear to me. We have played together for a long time. I have seen their children grow up, and now they are watching my two girls grow, as they come to watch mommy play. They are our biggest fans. I look forward to the day when my daughters consider me their biggest fan. 

Check out what Christena’s daughters had to say.

Adrianna

My favourite part of hockey is passing the puck, jumping over the blue line and the stickers that the coaches give me after practice. 

Angelina

I like to shoot on the net!