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Connecting the Swan River Valley to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

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With Canadians glued to their televisions, watching and cheering for Canadian athletes competing in the Pyeongchang Olympics, it’s easy to grasp at whatever connection to an athlete we’re able to.
For local hockey and curling fans, a connection is quite readily available during this year’s Olympic hype.
The obvious one of course is Chay Genoway, a defenceman for Team Canada’s men’s hockey team - who we’ll feature in a story post games.
Dig a little deeper and you may have spotted and heard about a former member of the Swan Valley Stampeders in attendance cheering on his girlfriend, Kaitlyn Lawes as she competed in Mixed Doubles Curling.
Stephan Vigier could be seen cheering on Lawes all the way to the podium after she, and partner John Morris, captured Olympic gold recently.
Lawes has been dating Vigier for just shy of a year and he, along with her mother (Cheryl) and brother (Kevin), were in Pyeongchang every step of the way.
Vigier, a member of the Stampeders in the 2006-2007 season and who now plays professionally in Norway, said the emotional roller coaster was an experience he’ll never forget.
“I’ve played in three Game 7s in the past three years; those were easy compared to watching Kaitlyn curl lately,” he added.
“On TV you probably noticed her mom sitting by herself. Kevin and I both do the old foot and knee tapping when sitting. Her mom hates that so she would always take off and sit by herself.” 
“Kaitlyn’s brother and I couldn’t sit down for that final game and I probably chewed off all my fingernails,” chuckled Vigier.
“But, watching in person is much easier than on TV though. I watched both her Olympic trials and mixed doubles trials on TV from Norway. That was really hard. I was pacing in my apartment the entire time. When you’re at the venue, there’s things to distract you making it a lot easier.”
So, if it’s easier being in attendance from a fan stand point, what’s it like being the centre of attention, with the entire crowd’s eyes focused directly on your every move?
“I’ve been known to wear my emotions on my sleeve,” said Lawes. “My facial expressions are usually pretty easy to read but the emotion I went through at the Olympics was a complete sense of calm.
“Other than the semi-final game (against Norway), I felt like I could do anything. That was a direct result of having my support system. Having them there made me feel like I could accomplish anything.”
In order to get that very important support system to Korea, a fundraiser was held at the St.Vital curling club the Friday before she left for the games.
“My family and friends along with all of Steph's family, sponsors, dignitaries, and people from the curling community came out to help raise some money to help ease the financial burden that I put on my family for them to come to the Olympics,” said Lawes. “It was a very special night, I needed them there with me.
“It can feel pretty lonely while you are on display game after game. But, to be able to wave to them and look up at their smiling faces each day, gave me a sense of calm, and made me feel at home. To be able to hug them after each game, and hearing how proud of me they are, had me feeling like I could accomplish anything. I am so lucky to have them in my life.”
Lawes – who has visited the Valley a few times including competing in the 2004 Junior Provincial Championships, a teaching event with fellow Winnipeg curler Reid Carruthers and a fishing trip with Vigier last summer – now has two Olympic gold medals on her resume but isn’t interested in comparing the two.
“I prefer to remember them separately,” she said. “Both experiences (the first being in the 2014 Sochi games) were incredible in their own unique ways.
“The one thing they did have in common though was how kind the volunteers were and how powerful the Olympic movement is. I call it the Disney World for athletes; it really is the happiest place on earth, for me.”
While still keeping the memories separate, Lawes said the road to getting to each games was obviously completely different.
“My journey to Sochi 2014 was incredibly special,” she added. “To have a four year plan with an end goal of winning the Olympics come together with Jennifer (Jones), Jill (Officer) and Dawn (McEwen) was one of the most inspiring things I have ever been a part of. I am so lucky to call them my friends and teammates. That is something we will share together for a lifetime.
“This new experience is equally as special, because John and I were able to overcome the disappointment of losing out in our team trials, and make history being a part of the first ever Mixed Doubles in the Olympics. My end goal from this games is to help grow the sport of curling, and share my love and passion for the game.”
Seeing the Olympic rings everywhere you go was very moving for Lawes, who said that it was a constant reminder of all the hard work that every athlete had put in to be there.
And, watching Lawes do her thing first hand was something that struck a chord for Vigier.
“Kaitlyn was awesome,” he said. “With two games a day, dealing with the media, dope testing and all the other stuff, she always made time for fans and for us to visit.
“It's a hard balance preparing for events, getting physio, proper nutrition and sleep, going over rock selection, and being able to relax with us, who travelled so far to see her.
“But, she was great and to celebrate after her win was special,” Vigier continued. “The worst part is that right after the final, she got pulled in for drug testing and was stuck in there until 1:30 a.m. due to three diluted samples so we had a delayed celebration.”
Viger was thrilled to be able to share the experience with Lawes.
“It was awesome to be able to make eye contact with Kaitlyn and see her little smirk between ends,” he said. “You could tell she appreciated having us there. They cruised through the final and to get that big hug from her afterwards is something we'll cherish forever.”
Lawes, who admits at times she is overwhelmed with the amount of supporters she has, appreciates her fans everywhere, and that includes those in the Swan River Valley.
“Unfortunately I would need more than 24 hours in a day to be able to respond to every message that comes in via social media, but If I could say one thing to everyone, I would say thank you!” she said,
“Thank you for following along as I chase this wild dream. Thank you for believing in me, and for inspiring me to be the best version of me. I encourage everyone to chase their dreams, and follow their heart. The world is a very special place, and has so much to offer, It can open up a world of opportunities if you allow it to.”
So what’s next for the 29-year-old champion, known to some as Mighty Mouse?
“I’m in Norway with Steph right now but will go back to Korea for the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics,” said Lawes. “Then it’s back to Canada and try to share my new medal with as many people as possible.
“I’ll get back to training with my girls and prepare to head to the World Women’s Championship in North Bay, Ont. and finish out the curling season with two more Grand Slam competitions.
“By then, Steph will be back home, and we will enjoy some R and R and hopefully some time on the lakes fishing,” concluded Lawes, noting that she would love to return to the Valley if the opportunity were to arise.

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Brian Gilroy
REPORTER
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