Get your game face ready

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

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There is no denying it – driving down Franklin Avenue is a bit painful right now due to a series of construction projects that seem designed to turn short jaunts into lengthy trips, and leisurely lunch hours into tests of patience as one frantically tries to return to their office in time for their next meeting. There has been a lot of grumbling about the delays, but the truth is that the sidewalks and median on Franklin are receiving a well-earned and long overdue facelift. You see, Fort McMurray, it’s time to get our game face on.

On August 7, the Opening Ceremonies of the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games will herald the beginning of several days of athletic competitions that will bring thousands of athletes, support staff, families and sport fans to our region. It is almost impossible to comprehend that this summer is finally arriving, as the planning and anticipation has been in the works for years.

It has been an amazing journey for our region, whether you have watched from the periphery or been in the middle of the action, and it is about to come to fruition.

I was there for the pep rally designed to impress and woo the visiting committee who would decide the fate of our bid to host the Games. I was there when our success was announced, and I have been there at a few pivotal moments along the way, watching as the Games went from a dream to a plan and now to reality. It has been an amazing journey for our region, whether you have watched from the periphery or been in the middle of the action, and it is about to come to fruition.

You can sense the excitement, too, in the preparations of things like sidewalks and flowerpots, a feeling that something is coming and that it will be different than anything we have hosted before and bring new opportunities to us.

What do fresh sidewalks and pretty flowers have to do with new opportunities? Every visitor who comes to Wood Buffalo during the Games will have the chance to form an impression of who we are, what we value and the pride we take in our region.

They will take that impression away with them when the Games end, and it will dictate their opinion of us and how they speak about us for years to come. It will help to create a dialogue on this region, as these visitors come to us from many different places, and each and every one has the potential to become an ambassador for this region.

Every visitor is a new opportunity, and just as we shine the silver and mop the floors to impress guests in our personal homes we are now preparing to welcome thousands of guests to our collective home in this region. The preparation may be a little larger in scale than what we do in our homes, but the logic is identical.

When the Games finally close and all the visitors trickle away to their homes, what memories do we want them to carry? I would imagine we want them to leave with an impression of a friendly place, with a quiet pride in what we do.

I would imagine we want them to remember a place where they didn’t feel like strangers, and where they would not be reluctant to return. I would imagine we want them to recall a place that when they hear sordid tales of misdeeds in Fort McMurray they counter those stories with recollections of a place they genuinely liked and enjoyed.

So even while I sit in traffic on Franklin and gnash my teeth. Even while I feel some degree of frustration at the sudden flurry of activity locally that threatens my peaceful existence, I feel this sense of celebration and accomplishment as we head towards an incredible event in this region.

There are the opening ceremonies to attend, and many sports to watch. There will be the nights of entertainment, and the closing ceremonies when it all fades away. And we will be left with freshly manicured meridians and sidewalks, lovely floral displays and memories of that time we took on an enormous challenge, creating new ambassadors along the way.

So, get your game face on, Wood Buffalo – and get ready to welcome the Games this August! CW