There's nothing better than affecting people through sport.
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Canoe / Kayak
Pam Am Gold Medalist, Olympic Hopeful, Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games
If Lake Banook had a "First Family," it would probably be the Russell’s. Ben, the youngest of four brothers - all accomplished paddlers - can't remember a summer he didn't spend on the lake.
"My family played a huge role in getting me involved in paddling," says Ben. "We spent all of our summers on the water. My three older brothers were successful paddlers and they definitely motivated me to pursue the sport."
Ben began paddling at age five. At 12, he was competing at a national level, and at 17, he won his first national title. After missing a bronze medal by a fraction of a second during international competitions in Poland and Germany, Ben set his sights on the Olympics. He had hoped to compete at the London Olympics in 2012, but Canada failed to qualify in the C2-1000 race - a two-person 1,000-metre sprint. Discouraged but unwilling to give up, Ben shifted his focus to Rio in 2016.
“To succeed in sport, you have to bring a number of qualities to the table - discipline, confidence, intelligence, talent, and a true love of the sport,” says Troy Comeau, Ben’s former paddling coach. “The difficulty and volume of work required to get to the top is too high for someone who doesn't enjoy the process. That’s why Ben has been so successful. He loves what he does - and has a competitive drive that just won’t let him quit.”
While talent and tenacity are certainly necessary for athletic success, there is more to the equation. "For athletes and coaches, access to funding is the difference between pursuing sport or quitting and moving on,” says Ben. “High-performance sport just wouldn't be possible without programs like Support4Sport.”
Introduced by the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation in 2006, Support4Sport has raised more than $27 million through the sale of designated ticket lottery products to provide important funding to amateur and high performance athletes, coaches and community sport organizations.
"It means I can focus on my sport and my training without worrying about how I'm going to make ends meet."
For Ben, Support4Sport funding has helped purchase new equipment, including paddles. It has also helped him train and compete. "With the help I've received from Support4Sport, I've been able to travel all over North America in order to attend training camps and compete in national competitions.”
But for Ben, the best part of travel is the support he has from home. “There is an incredible culture of canoeing in our community,” says Ben. “The support I've received from the canoe club, my fellow athletes, the coaches and the volunteers is sometimes overwhelming.”
Ben has been a part of this community since those early days with his brothers on the lake. While his demanding training schedule doesn’t leave him with much time to spend at Banook, he does help out where he can with coaching and fundraising. His advice to the kids he helps coach: Love the sport. Make a plan. And get to work.
“There is a reason why canoe/kayak is Nova Scotia’s best sport at the Canada Games, and why Nova Scotia always sends these athletes to the summer Olympics,” he says. “The community just always supports us and gives us every opportunity to succeed.”