Exchanging Words with the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre

Nicholas Friesen Blog

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Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email nicholas@exchangedistrict.org with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.

Sometimes it takes an event to create something that a city needs, and what a city like Winnipeg needs is a space where people can come together and work towards a positive, healthy future. Just in time for the Canada Games, the Sport for Life Centre (located at 145 Pacific Avenue) is opening its doors to hundreds of the 4,000 athletes competing from across the country.

Hosting basketball and indoor volleyball events, this world class facility boasts three layers of workout areas and has already seen a lot of action leading up to the games. Team Manitoba (and even a few out-of-province squads) have been training around the clock in the facility, which is also available for public use through membership.

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Twelve years in the making, the 124,000 square foot Canada Games Sport for Life Centre boasts two studio spaces which can be utilized for hundreds of classes (from TRX to dance and yoga), a 160 metre track, a massive basketball court with a 40 foot ceiling, high level equipment (including self propelled treadmills and olympic weights), and much more.

“The equipment is all high level,” says Director of Marketing Kim Browning. “You know how sometimes you pull on a weight, sometimes the weights will separate or snap together? There are no plates, you can do speed movement and not get that shift of weight.”

During a tour of the facility, Browning shows us around the multilevel centre, featuring beautiful walls of windows for plenty of natural light. “With glass on three sides, on a sunny day it’s pretty amazing in here,” Browning says while standing in a studio, still in awe of his surroundings. “(What no other facility) has is this amount of good Winnipeg sunlight. No matter what the temperature is, that’s gonna come streaming in, and is pretty darn unique.”

Browning, who has worked with Sport Manitoba for 17 years, next shows us the track, which allows athletes to run circles around (and above) the basketball court. The track, made up of a special double-layered, spike-proof carpet from Italy, isn’t at all rubberized. “I know from the gang that have been working out on it already that it’s so nice under your feet,” he says.

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The track, overlooking the multi-use court at The Qualico Training Centre at the Canada Games Sport for Life Centre.

We then descend to the lower level, featuring three international sized multi-use courts. “We can play 12 badminton games at a time,” Browning notes of the space the basketball and volleyball matches will take place. “The amount of light in here, the kids I’ve talked to, they’ve been thrilled. Three of the Atlantic province teams showed up two weeks ago to train with Team Manitoba, just to get in some exhibition games. They wanted to try the facility because they’re gonna play here.”

It’s a court that puts the grade school gym floors we used to dribble up and down on to shame, and it’s exciting that people from around the country will have the opportunity to play, train and compete here. That, and schools from right down the block may have the chance as well.

“(We have an) ability to connect to the downtown core and kids that live in the downtown, we’re close at hand,” Browning says. “We’re only a block and a half from Argyle School, which doesn’t have a gym. We know we can make a difference, and we know we’re not the ones that understand how to connect to those kids, but we can connect to those programs. We can have (schools) bring their kids, and not as a drop-in centre. It’s one thing to throw a basketball or volleyball and send them on their way, but we’ve got 70 sports here. I’m a lacrosse coach, and the ability to be able to introduce those kids to a sport they’ve probably never tried is pretty unique.”

Browning, who grew up playing and coaching lacrosse, now coaches the coaches as a learning facilitator. He loves being able to give back.

“What I find in Manitoba is that most coaches are hockey coaches, and their kid wants to play so they learn the game,” he says. “There’s always a need for someone to be teaching them.”

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Team Manitoba athletes attend a Canada Games press conference at the Sport Manitoba Hall of Fame on July 19, 2017.

“Look at how many major cities that had olympics are now in ruins because there is no legacy plan,” he says, offering the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio as a prime example. “What are you gonna do with that facility or the apartments that were the athlete’s village?”

You’ve got to fill it with competition, community and spirit.

“The range of people we’re gonna be able to impact, between grass route level community sport, to Winnipeg minor basketball, to the high performance and professional athletes… we’ll be able to help.”

Visit sportmanitoba.ca for more information on the Canada Summer Games Sport for Life Centre.