Cyclist Zach Bell clearly remembers the first time he met an Olympian.
It was 22 years ago, when he was 10, in his hometown of Watson Lake.
Canadian Olympic wrestler Chris Wilson, a six-time national champ, travelled to the town and gave a talk to Bell’s wrestling team.
“My dad (Greig), who was a coach at the time, made a call to see if we could get him down,” said Bell. “I think they actually flew him down on one of the RCMP planes just for the day and he came in to talk to 15 or 20 of us.”
That memorial encounter “jump-started” Bell’s career, said the two-time Olympic cyclist.
Bell now wants to help young Yukon athletes have similar experiences.
Shortly after being named International Male Athlete of the Year at the Sport Yukon Awards Night on Thursday, Bell unveiled his program to do just that.
The Zach Bell Rural Youth Sport Development Program is aimed at bringing Olympic athletes and national coaches to Yukon to conduct multiple-day camps with sports groups in the territory.
“It’s my hope that this will provide myself, as well as other Yukon Olympians, a chance to connect young Yukon athletes with a network of expertise that we’ve been able to connect with through our participation in national teams, without increasing the financial strain on the sport organizations or the sport funding already available in the Yukon,” said Bell.
The goals of the program are to create a fund to aid sports groups in accessing Olympic level expertise from athletes and coaches, to support Yukon’s rural communities by requiring their participation in camps and clinics, and for sports groups to build connections with professional athletes and coaches outside of Yukon.
“Sport organizations in good standing with Sport Yukon will be able to apply to bring up Olympic level athletes and coaches to direct camps and clinics,” said Bell. “The proposed camps must also include the communities by bringing in athletes from the communities to Whitehorse to participate in these camps or by hosting the camps in the communities themselves.”
The program is not geared towards any specific sport and can be accessed by any group affiliated with Sport Yukon. Groups must have a specific athlete or coach in mind, and must cover costs of bringing at least one rural athlete to the camp, which must be a minimum of three days in length.
In addition to Bell and Sport Yukon, Air North has stepped up to the plate in making the program possible.
“They’ve granted us a set number of travel credits per year to move people around and it’s a significant number, so we decided we wanted to use that to bring some expertise in,” said Bell. “If we get applicants who want to travel out to attend camps run by similar individuals, we’ll consider those. But the priority is going to be bringing people in.”
“This all became possible with partnership with Air North,” he added.
The program will get rolling in earnest early in the New Year. The application deadline for summer camps is Jan. 31. The deadline for camps next winter is June 30.
“The program is ready to launch, but we are looking for other supporters in the business community who might want to help grow it, to allow us to bring more people in, maybe higher profile people,” said Bell. “We’re open to working with and promoting businesses too.”
Contact Tom Patrick at