Canadian Olympian Denise Ramsden, left, rides with a Yukon cyclist in Porter Creek in July 2015. Ramsden came to the Yukon with the Northern LYTES program established by Yukon Olympians Zach Bell and Emily Nishikawa. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)

Zach Bell awarded OLY Canada Legacy Grant for Northern LYTES program

“We want the word to be out there on a regular basis in Yukon sport organizations.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced in a press release on Oct. 18 that Whitehorse’s Zach Bell is one of five Team Canada Legacy Olympians — athletes now retired from competition — who were awarded the inaugural OLY Canada Legacy Grant.

Bell and the other four recipients — Caroline Ouelette, Nick Triton, Eric Mitchell and Carolyn Trono — will each receive $5,000 for initiatives and projects they are currently leading.

In Bell’s case the money will go to help Northern LYTES (Linking Youth to Elite Sport), a program he initially started with Emily Nishikawa to help connect Yukon athletes and sport organizations with Olympic athletes and coaches.

“We want to do that by making sure that sports organizations in the Yukon have access to those people via the support with Air North and also by utilizing (Yukon Olympians) as sort of a conduit of access,” said Bell. “If an Olympian puts forward a request to another Olympian, it’s pretty rare that it’s declined. We can really make some good connections with people that the organizations up there may not have that direct touch point with.”

The idea, he continued, is to empower athletes to realize exactly what is possible.

“We just want to create that ‘a-ha’ moment of young kids being able to meet our Olympic team and our Olympic coaches and figure out that they’re ordinary people and they’ve gone on to do these extraordinary things,” said Bell. “And there is no reason why our kids in our communities can’t do that.”

Examples of projects Northern LYTES has helped facilitate include a cross-country skiing camp with Canadian World Cup coach Justin Wadsworth, a cycling camp with Canadian Olympian Denise Ramsden, a physical literacy camp with Canadian Olympic medalist Tom Hall and a basketball coach with Olympian Greg Francis.

More specifically, the grant money is being used for a new Northern LYTES sport promotion grant and to help find a long-term financial partner to make the program more sustainable.

The promotion grant stems from the fact that the program isn’t getting enough applications to utilize all of the available resources.

“We’ve had this idea of creating a sort of corps of youth ambassadors in the Yukon for the Northern LYTES program just to keep momentum going,” said Bell. “We want the word to be out there on a regular basis in Yukon sport organizations.”

Applicants need to put forward a plan to promote the program — Bell stressed it could be whatever they think is fun or interesting — and the grant will be for a sporting activity of their choice, like attending university to play a varsity sport or attending a camp to try to make a national team.

While Bell said Air North is an excellent partner for the program for travel, he is looking for a financial partner to provide stability for the future.

“The second thing we want to do is utilize it in finding out more long-term financial partners for the fund,” said Bell. “Right now we still have about a year or a year and a half worth of funding, but we need to find some more stable businesses both inside and outside the Yukon and we’re going to use the remainder of the grant towards activities around bringing in more stable financial partners.”

Rather than looking ahead a year or two, Bell hopes to secure the future of the program for decades.

“We have a great partner in Air North and we need a good financial partner to stand beside them to make it all sustainable over the next 15 to 20 years.”

For more information about the Northern LYTES Youth Sport Development Program or the Northern LYTES Sport Promotion Grant, visit the Sport Yukon website.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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