Happy New Year, North Shore sports nuts!
Before we slide tackle 2019 though, let’s take one more pass back through 2018 to recognize the best sports stories of the year. These are the North Shore athletes who didn’t just come out on top in their chosen fields in 2018, but did so by scaling great obstacles to reach the peak.
Here, as chosen by the North Shore News sports editorial board, are the top five North Shore sports stories of 2018.
1. Good golly miss Mollie
Top spot this year goes to West Vancouver alpine skier Mollie Jepsen, who overcame incredible setbacks just to make it to the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. It’s not her left hand that slowed her down – she was born missing a few fingers, which prevents her holding a ski pole, but she’s been racing down mountain slopes using just one pole since she was two years old – but those knees ...
Jepsen tore her first ACL, the right one, when she was just 13 years old. When she was 15 she tore the left one.
“That was quite devastating after going through that kind of injury the first time and knowing how brutal and painful the rehab and surgery process might be,” she told the North Shore News. “But I honestly just love skiing so much that I was just like, ‘OK, here we go again. I know what I’m doing, let’s get it done.’”
She rehabbed tirelessly to come back from those injuries and appeared ready to make a breakthrough on the world scene. It couldn’t be that easy though – just one year out from the 2018 Paralympics, she broke her ankle.
Finally she got two strong legs underneath her, just in time for the Paralympics, and the 18-year-old showed the world just what she could do. Jepsen won gold in the super combined, silver in slalom and bronze in downhill and super-G. She also earned the IPC Crystal Globe for the super-G discipline for the 2017-18 World Cup season.
“I like to go as fast as I can,” she said before the Paralympics, adding that her multiple injuries and rehabs have made her a more focused, precise racer. “I focused all of my energy on just becoming the strongest technical and tactical skier I could, and it’s now started to really pay off this season. I’ve been able to put down some really clean, fast runs. Finally.”
Jepsen was named Best Female Athlete at the 2018 Canadian Paralympic Sport Awards, and her performance in Korea made her one of Team Canada’s brightest stars at the Paralympic Games.
2. Young has heart
We’re sticking with the Paralympics Games for No. 2, as North Vancouver’s Emily Young had an equally amazing tale to tell about just getting to the Games. Back when she was known by her maiden name of Emily Weekes, Young was an elite wrestler coming up through the powerhouse Carson Graham program. She was training for the 2009 Canada Summer Games when her wrestling career was dealt a devastating blow. During a training drill her arm got stuck between two mats and she dislocated her elbow, separated her shoulder and suffered major nerve damage. She continued wrestling, even winning a bronze medal at the Canada Games basically with one arm, but it eventually became clear that the irreparable nerve damage was too severe for her to continue wrestling.
“The joint was like held together with Silly Putty,” she told the North Shore News. “It was so wiggly. No surgeon would do anything on me unless I stopped wrestling.”
Her competitive fires still burned though, so after wrestling she tried triathlon, even racing the Penticton Ironman, before switching to cross-country skiing with the North Shore-based Hollyburn Cross Country Ski Club. Her first ski race came in 2015, and three years later she was lining up for the Paralympic Games. Her lack of experience didn’t keep her out of contention though – Young came home with silver in the 4x2.5-kilometre mixed relay and bronze in the women’s standing 7.5-km classic.
“I kept telling myself to get this done,” she said after scoring her bronze medal. “There is nothing left in the tank. I didn’t want any more hills. I just wanted to get over the finish line. I left it all out there today.”
3. Wick on fire
North Vancouver’s Rowan Wick took an improbable baseball path that ended up with him making his MLB debut in 2018 with the San Diego Padres.
What makes his story so noteworthy is the position he played: pitcher. The big right hander was a feared hitter all through his youth and college career and got drafted as a slugging catcher before moving to the outfield. His biggest leap, however, came in 2015. Mired in an extended slump, he was basically given the choice between letting his Big League dreams die, or giving pitching a try. He’d always had a strong arm, but had never pitched a meaningful inning in his life. He wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“I wanted to hit,” Wick told the North Shore News during a previous interview. “Obviously no one is too pleased when someone tells you you’re not good enough at something, so I wasn’t too happy.”
But he went along with it, and eventually that cannon of an arm turned into a precise mound machine. In his MLB debut he threw eight pitches, all strikes, to record a 1-2-3 inning against the Colorado Rockies. One day later he pitched the eighth inning in a close game, loading the bases with a couple of hits and a walk but escaped unscathed, using his mid-90s fastball and low-90s slider to end the threat with a strike out and a couple of pop-outs. He made 10 total appearances for the Padres this season. In November Wick was traded to the Chicago Cubs and was added to their 40-man roster, which will give him a chance to compete for an opening day roster spot this spring.
4. Captain Morgan
We here at the North Shore News tend to focus on local amateur athletes or those making a breakthrough in some way – the pros you see on TSN all the time usually get enough coverage – but what West Vancouver’s Morgan Rielly is doing this year deserves a special nod.
The 24-year-old is in the midst of a breakout in his sixth season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is already getting mentioned as a leading contender for the Norris Trophy. The proof is in the points – Rielly is leading all NHL defencemen this season in goals and points and is tied for the lead in assists. Through 39 games he has 13 goals, 31 assists and 44 points. Oh, and he also leads the league with a +25 rating. Playing with the likes of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares no doubt helps the statline, but Rielly, a former fifth overall draft pick, is blossoming into a bona fide star himself.
It’ll be fun to see what else the former Hollyburn Huskie can conjure up as the Maple Leafs hunt for their first Stanley Cup since 1967.
5. Madison Avenue
Our list is rounded out by rower Madison Mailey, a Lions Bay resident who graduated from Collingwood School and got her start in the sport with the Deep Cove Rowing Club.
In 2018 Mailey announced herself as a potential powerhouse for the women’s national rowing program for years to come with a pair of medal performances. Mailey first took a seat in the U23 women’s eight boat to help that team win gold for the second straight year at the world championships. She then slid over to the big unit, jumping in with the senior women’s eights crew and helping them win silver at the World Rowing Championships, finishing just behind the United States.
“Rowing is about 70 per cent legs, and as a rower you need to have a lot of explosive power and be able to push through high levels of lactic acid pumping through your veins,” Mailey explained to the North Shore News. She added that nothing in the sport of rowing is comfortable, “and if it is, you know you are doing it wrong.”
• Runner Lindsey Butterworth wins 800-m title at track and field nationals.
• Gymnast Scott Morgan grabs a silver and two bronze medals at Commonwealth Games.
• Caitlin Shaw helps Canada finish fourth at FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup.
• Stefan Elliott and Gilbert Brule win hockey bronze with Team Canada at the Olympic Games.
• Grouse Tyee skier Sam Mulligan wins downhill silver at World Junior Championships.