365 days and counting to the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games

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U of T community prepares to host, compete and volunteer

Let the countdown begin!  In just 12 months, Toronto will greet almost 7000 athletes and 250,000 visitors to the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games − and the University of Toronto will play a prominent role in the welcome, as host and participant.

"I don't know if Torontonians realize yet just how big these Games will be," said athlete and PhD student Donna Vakalis. "There will be more athletes and coaches arriving for Pan Ams, than there would be for a Winter Olympic Games, for example. This gets me really excited for our city, as a citizen of Toronto and as a U of T student and of course as an athlete!"

The Pan Am/Parapan Am Fields at the University’s St. George campus will host a variety of sports, including field hockey and football 5-a-side and 7-a-side, while archery competitions will be held at the Varsity Centre. And the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House on the University of Toronto Scarborough campus will feature indoor water sports, as well as fencing, modern pentathlon and sitting volleyball. (Read more about the Pan Am/Parapan Am games at the University of Toronto)

After the Games, these sites will be available for students and community members alike, said Elizabeth Cragg, operations manager, Pan Am Games at U of T (St. George Campus).

As a University located in the heart of a vibrant city, we regularly have an opportunity to welcome students, staff, faculty and guests to our campuses from across Canada and around the world,” Cragg said. “Hosting the PanAm and ParaPanAm Games in the summer of 2015 is such a wonderful opportunity for the University community to take another active role in bringing such an historic and collaborative event to life.”

But students, faculty and staff are working to ensure the University’s presence extends far beyond hosting events. Across U of T, athletes are training hard in hopes of competing at the games.

Olympian Vakalis is among the students hoping to qualify. Now pursuing her PhD studies in U of T's civil engineering program, the versatile athlete competed at the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the women’s modern pentathlon event.

"I thrive on the support of so many wonderful people who are here in Toronto - including athletes and coaches of U of T varsity teams, the U of T sport medicine clinic, U of T clubs, and my very supportive supervisor and colleagues in engineering," Vakalis said. "I've competed internationally for years, participated in the Olympics and World Championships, but never on home turf. If selected for the Pan Am Games team, I believe that competing here at U of T (on the Scarborough campus) would bring a valuable psychological advantage – one that I've never experienced before, but it gets me excited already with anticipation. 

"Many of my friends and relatives have never had the  chance to travel to a major Pentathlon competition, and already, just imagining that they can be closeby on the competition day makes me a little emotional."

Curious about what it takes to be a graduate student and a high performance athlete who trains and competes in equestrian events, swimming, running, fencing, and laser pistol shooting? Along with accomplished athletes and fellow U of T students Zack Cetrat and Amanda Woodcroft, Vakalis will be chronicling her Pan Am/Parapan Am journey online.

And members of the U of T community are volunteering at all levels, donating their expertise and their time; alumna Alexandra Orlando and medical student Jane Thornton are just two examples.

Orlando, winner of three gold medals at the 2007 Pan Am Games, and Thornton, an Olympian rower, both serve on a special athletes advisory council aimed at ensuring the views and interests of athletes are represented. Organizers say the Olympians, Paralympians, Pan Am and Parapan Am athletes on the TO2015 Athlete Advisory Council will help shape programs to enhance the athlete experience, encourage community engagement and create an intimate and authentic Games experience.

All of this is just the beginning for the University, said Cragg, as the games expect to involve as many as 20,000 volunteers.

“Through ongoing programming, new infrastructure and our culture of volunteerism, our partnership with TO2015 is bringing us together in new and innovative ways as we prepare for the Games and look towards the legacy that they will bring to our community,” said Cragg.

What are you doing to support the games? Let us know your plans to volunteer in the coming months, your dreams of competing, coaching, or simply attending the games. Email the editor at U of T News: uoftnews@utoronto.ca.

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