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Volunteers the lifeblood of sport

Volunteers the lifeblood of sport
Ben Stevenson

By Ben Stevenson

Owen Carney’s name has been synonymous with success in the sport of Alpine Skiing in Canada for close to 40 years. He’s not a racer or a coach or even a renowned wax tech.

He’s a volunteer – a Hall of Fame volunteer with passion for sport that spans generation and shows in the success of athletes across the globe.

“My son (Mike) was on the BC team and then the national team,” said Carney, who working on the hills as a parent. At the 1988 Olympics I was asked to be a Chief of Course in Calgary. It was nice because my son raced there and I just carried on after that.”

Carry on, indeed.

After watching his son compete in Calgary and finish 14th in the downhill race, Carney transferred his leadership abilities to a renowned group of volunteers known as the Weasel Workers.

Founded in the 1970’s under the watch of BC native Bob Parsons, the Weasels started off as a group of six people prepping for the first World Cup downhill races in Whistler.

Canada's Mike Carney (left) Rob Boyd participate in the alpine ski event at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. (CP PHOTO/ COC/C. McNeil)

The name “Weasels” earn their name through hard work – a nod to the frisky rodents who are always on the go. The name stuck and the team of volunteers under Carney’s watch have built the course for every senior race held in Whistler BC, including World Cup races, Canadian Championships, NorAms and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Their work has received notice and appreciation of their European counterparts – leading to several trips overseas to pass on knowledge and expertise.

“Organizers (from Europe) will come to Canada to see our work and ask us to come there,” said Carney. “Mostly when we go there it’s for the appreciation of the work we do. We’re not the main workers on site in Europe, but we go to help and sometimes to learn. We send our key people … up to 40 of them.”

Carney’s resume in skiing is impressive. He has been recognized a number of times including winning the Alpine Canada and the British Columbia Alpine Ski Volunteer of the Year Award (1990) and the Association British Columbia Alpine Presidents Award (1998).

The 70-year-old native of Whistler, BC was also a big contributor to the bidding process in Vancouver’s attempt to procure the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The ultimate acknowledgement came in 2004 when Carney was elected into the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame as a builder for his dedication to the advancement of the sport in Canada.

Even with a résumé as impressive as his, Carney quickly and modestly points to the direction of the 500 active volunteers who help make the races possible.

“The key is we all work together,” said Carney. “There’s no hierarchy with us, we are all treated the same. It’s just a passion to pull off these big races. We have a very good team and we make it happen. We’re like a big family.”

Family is a big selling point for the Weasels.

Many of the volunteers, like Carney, get their start in the group because of a son or daughter who is excelling in the sport.

Many other Weasels are parents of current or past national team athletes including Karl Ricker, father of Olympic gold medallist Maëlle Ricker (Squamish, BC), Brent and Marilyn McIvor, parents of Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor (Vancouver, BC), and Andrée Janyk, mother of Olympians Britt and Michael Janyk (Whistler, BC).

Owen Carney

“They are unbelievable in putting in the man hours that go into creating the races we enjoy,” said Mike Janyk, a downhill skier who has represented Canada in Turin and Vancouver. “It’s quite the production in Alpine Skiing to put on a race. When you have 100 plus people working through the night it’s pretty special. It’s a great community.”

Carney and the Weasels have left an impact on the sport and most notably with Alpine Canada and its racers.

“They have a reputation for being great event organizers and staging world-class ski races,” said Keith Bradford, the Director of Communications at Alpine Canada. “Everyone loves (Owen) in the ski community.”

According to Carney, the Weasels do what they do because of their love for ski racing. They never fear about going the extra mile and don’t even think about compensation.

“In a lot of countries they have to pay people to do this,” said Carney. “For us they just have to buy us a beer at the end of the day.

Seeing how much the athletes love their courses is enough for Carney, and for that the athletes and the rest of Canada is thankful.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” added Janyk. “We absolutely see the effort. We wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It’s that simple. Not only without their work, but without their passion for putting on events.”

– George Fadel


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