The hoop heard ’round the internet means so much more at Port Moody school

There’s few things more aggravating to a newspaper journalist than getting beat to a story by TV. That’s especially true today, in this post-literal-all-social-media-all-the-time age when too many people get their immediate news high from quick-hit, superficial digital media; why bother taking the time to read a well-crafted story with context and nuance when you can absorb the big bits in a 30-second clip from YouTube?
Last week I got burned twice, in 24 hours.
The first story is one I’ve been sitting on for months, holding off because I was asked to due to its sensitivity. I was confident I would eventually get it, but I was also respectful of the situation.
Then, it showed up on TV.
The other was one of those viral moments that newscasts like to feature because they make people smile or gasp and absolves them of having a reporter or video journalist on the payroll who could otherwise fill that 30-second time slot.
Usually I dismiss such stories, as they tend to flare up and then burn out quickly; such is the half-life of electronic news these days. But this one happened right in our backyard, and I sensed there was likely more layers to the story than the post on Twitter that lit the fuse could summarize in 140 characters.
In such an instance, you’re playing catch-up right out of the gate. That the story caught fire late on a Friday and we don’t work weekends made it doubly difficult.
Should I even bother? I wondered. After all, such stories inevitably become about the number of views the viral video got because viewers love that kind of data and it doesn’t require a lot of manpower or time to tell.
But as the weekend went on, I burned to know the rest of the story. Driving to the office, I resigned to playing catch-up but I was determined to tell the story better, and in a way that would hopefully resonate with our own community.

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Reid Demelo was excited to get the opportunity to take a shot in a high school basketball game.

But the Grade 12 student at Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody never imagined his moment of sporting glory would be seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. That it would capture the attention of local TV stations and national Canadian and American networks — including CBC’s The National and CBS Sports. That it would spark an effort by his schoolmates to get him on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Demelo’s shot, arcing through the air just as time ran out in the Kodiaks’ opening game of their own ninth annual Kodiak Klassic senior boys’ basketball tournament last Thursday wasn’t a winner. (Heritage Woods beat the Kitsilano Blues handily, 79-45.)

It wasn’t Demelo’s only basket of the game — he had sunk another shot about 20 seconds earlier.

It wasn’t even the first time Demelo had come off the bench from his usual role as team manager to get a chance to play — he’d had a similar opportunity last season.

But that shot was so much more than all of the attention it’s getting.

It was, said Heritage Woods principal Todd Clerkson, a celebration of the power of acceptance and inclusion amongst young people.

“Reid knows everybody,” he said. “He brings people together.”

Demelo has Down syndrome.

His life revolves around sports. In addition to playing basketball, he swims competitively, participates in track and field and ultimate, and he’s on the Team BC Special Olympics training squad for speed skating. He also fills water bottles for his younger brother’s academy hockey team at Burnaby Winter Club.

Last year, Demelo took on a similar role with the Kodiaks senior boys’ basketball team.

In addition to keeping the players hydrated or handing them a towel to dab their sweaty brows, he’s also a tireless booster, said Kodiaks coach Greg Schellenberg.

“Reid is such a positive individual,” he said. “He’s got such a great spirit about him.”

So when the throng of more than 1,000 students that traditionally fills the bleachers for the home school’s lunchtime opener began chanting “We want Reid! We want Reid!” in the game’s waning moments, Schellenberg knew what he had to do.

He affirmed his notion with co-coach Roj Johal, then called a timeout with 35 seconds on the clock to talk to the Kitsilano coach, Sylvester Noel, who gave his blessing.

Demelo got the nod but, as a team manager, he doesn’t have a jersey.

So teammate Morgan Liski loaned him his #11, which Demelo pulled on over his maroon “We are Kodiaks” t-shirt.

Demelo, a point guard who has been playing basketball with the Tri-City Youth Basketball Association — where his mom, Jana Demelo, is also a coach — since he was in Grade 2 and takes every opportunity to shoot hoops with his high school colleagues during practice and at home in his driveway, said he was excited and nervous to get on the court.

“I came out flying,” he said.

Demelo got his first touch of the ball after Heritage Woods regained possession from the Blues on a rebound. He scored.

A few moments later, the Kodiaks were able to wrest the ball away again. Viktor Glogovac made a pass behind his back to Demelo, who corralled it then planted his feet just beyond the three-point line. As players from both sides watched in anticipation, he launched a perfect rainbow. The game-ending buzzer sounded just as the ball crested.

And then, bedlam.

The bleachers emptied in a wild celebration. Demelo’s teammates chased him to the opposite end of the court, where they embraced their manager in a bouncing, roiling dance of unbridled joy.

“That was the best moment,” Demelo said, adding he was thinking of his best buddy, former Kodiak star Zach Hamed, who’s sitting out his first year of basketball eligibility at the University of Victoria this season and was in the crowd at Heritage Woods last Thursday. And he said he thought of the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, the NBA superstar he’d like to meet someday.

Clerkson said it was an apt moment because everybody at the school knows and loves Demelo.

“Reid is just so genuine. He supports all the events at the school and the kids appreciate that,” he said, adding Demelo was presented a special Spirit of the Kodiak award last year for his positive contributions to Heritage Woods and his fellow students.

“Nobody embodies that spirit better,” Clerkson said.

“It was an incredible moment to be there and experience it,” Schellenberg said. “It showcases what a great community we have at Heritage Woods that’s so supportive.”

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Monday, with the principal handling a steady stream of media requests, Demelo was free to accept the smiles, high-fives and hugs of nearly everyone he passed in the halls between classes.

It’s “awesome,” he said, but the team has a game at the Langley Events Centre in the Howard Tsumura Invitational tournament on Wednesday, and he needs a ride.

When friends open a brewery

There has been more than a few beer stories in these pages. But this latest one has a bit of a twist.

These newly-minted brewers are friends; they ride in our cycling group. Or, at least they did, until they decided to open a brewery.

Actually, their new venture is been brewing for more than a couple of years. But as any entrepreneur knows, getting a new enterprise successfully off the ground all comes down to crunch time.

Thankfully, they were able to take a few moments out of their hectic days leading up to their grand opening to allow me to help tell their story.

Spry seniors pilot Big Bike for charity

As the Tri-City News’ ad-hoc cycling reporter, pretty much any story on two wheels gets sent my way. But not all bikes have just two wheels. Or one rider.

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can get him on a bike every couple of years.
At 106 years, Don Simpson certainly qualifies as old. In fact, according to Phil Reist, the driver of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Big Bike,” he’s likely the oldest participant to ever ride the 29-passenger behemoth bicycle that helps raise money and awareness to prevent heart disease.
Simpson was the captain of a contingent of spry seniors from the Mayfair Terrace retirement home in Port Coquitlam who took the Big Bike for a 20-minute spin on the roads around Coquitlam Centre last Friday. It wasn’t his first rodeo, though.
Simpson cycled the Big Bike when he was much younger — two years ago when he was 104. But he also remembers riding his bike as a boy around Vancouver’s Stanley Park and attending the six-day bike races at the old China Creek velodrome.
“That was our stomping ground,” he said.
So when it came time to climb aboard the gargantuan single-geared machine, Simpson knew exactly where he wanted to be. He ignored the requests of a photographer and cameraman to mount an outboard seat so they could get a clear shot of him pedalling, and instead scrambled — slowly, and with a bit of help — to the middle row at the very back. After all, who’s going to argue with someone his age?
And with a few last-minute instructions from Reist, a shake of the maracas and other noisemakers to ensure passersby notice the big bike — like they’re going to miss it? — they were off.

 

Beer brings new moms together for support

This story appeared originally in The Tri-City News

Alex Turner was a new mom when she ran headlong into postpartum depression.
She didn’t have it. But the former television reporter felt deeply connected to the news coverage of a young Burnaby mother who’d gone missing for three weeks until her body was found near Bowen Island.
In a heart-wrenching post on Facebook, the woman’s husband said she had been struggling with breastfeeding her newborn son, but without a community of moms around her to provide support and reassurance, she gave into her feelings of guilt and anxiety.
“I could feel her struggle,” said Turner, whose own son was about the same age as the woman’s child. “You have a new person you have to care for, yet you can feel you’re so alone.”
So when Turner became pregnant with her second child, she was determined not to let herself become isolated by creating her own community of new moms who could lean on and learn from each other, who would appreciate the opportunity to just get out of the house.
A year later, Turner’s Tri-Cities Moms Monthly “Meeting” group has more than 500 members from New Westminster to Maple Ridge, several dozen of whom gathered with their infants and toddlers for their regular assembly Thursday at the outdoor patio behind Yellow Dog Brewery in Port Moody.
Turner said while social media like Facebook and Instagram might provide a refuge for new moms, digital connections aren’t a substitute for real, personal interaction.
“You need to come together face-to-face,” she said.
And what better place to do that than the family-friendly environs of one of Port Moody’s craft breweries where moms can have adult conversations while their babies and toddler roll around on blankets spread on the soft wood chip ground of the expansive and shaded back outdoor patio?
“We’re in this together,” Turner said.

The passion of Cosimo Gericatano

One of the (rare) perks of being a journalist is being able to share some stories that are so cool, you’re walking on Cloud 9 when you leave the assignment.
One of my newsroom colleagues heard about a retired Italian engineer, who also ran a Ferrari and Lambourghini car dealership for several years, with a passion for painting reproductions of masterworks by the likes of Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Gaugin, Renoir. We made arrangements to meet, but nothing could prepare us for the splendour in Cosimo Gericatano’s house.
Every wall, and even some of the ceilings, were hung with precise duplications of renowned paintings that adorn the best museums in the world. Mona Lisa, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Creation of Adam, Allegory of the Planets and Continents were all there, every brushstroke and subtle hue recreated over hundreds of hours of exacting work.
Hanging with Cosimo was like spending a couple of hours with the Italian gentleman we all aspire to be, from his crisp cotton shirt and pressed trousers, as well as his trimmed grey hair to his encyclopedic knowledge of the paintings and artists he’s reproduced, gleaned from hours of research on the internet and visits to the museums where the originals are displayed. Not to mention the red Testarossa parked in his pristine garage.
Here’s the link to our story. And here’s the photos I shot.

There will be mud

While the major rainstorm that was forecast held off, dozens of riders still got down and dirty at Saturday’s annual Donkey Cross cyclocross race in Port Coquitlam’s Castle Park.
The race was the first of seven that comprise the Lower Mainland Cyclocross series.
Cyclocross is like steeplechase racing on two wheels. Riders navigate a winding, undulating course for several laps that includes obstacles, a metres-long “beach” of soft sand, and even a stretch of snow from a local arena dumped into a corner. The sport originated as a form of off-season training for road cyclists in Northern Europe who would often challenge each other to get to the coffee shop in the next village the quickest. Often, that meant traversing farmers’ fields and hopping fences and hedges, elements that are still honoured in modern cyclocross racing.

It they built it, will they climb?

A version of this article appeared in The Tri-City News.

It’s one thing to build a multi-use path, quite another to get walkers and cyclists to use it.

Port Moody accomplished the former with its $4.627-million upgrade of Gatensbury Avenue to make the steep, winding connector between it and the city and Coquitlam safer for motorists and add a $285,000 multi-use path (MUP) along its western flank for pedestrians and people on bikes.

The project was identified as an early priority in Port Moody’s master transportation plan, which was endorsed by council in March 2017. That plan will see the city invest more than $31 million over the next 20 years to make it easier to get around the city, and encourage more sustainable modes of transportation, like walking and cycling.

Ascending Gatensbury, though, remains a test of fortitude, leg strength and lung capacity.

Already the climb to the top has been dubbed the “Gatensbury Gasp” on social media by some pedestrians who have ascended its 12% average pitch over 1.1 kilometres since it reopened to traffic at the end of May.

But what does that mean for cyclists?

Always up for a good bike story, I set out to find out.

I’m not a climber. Descending is more my jam.

I ride up hills and mountains because I have to get to the top so I can turn around and speed back down.

For the most part, cyclists have avoided Gatensbury for years because of its narrow lanes that lacked a shoulder and its pocked pavement that made it unsafe at worst, uncomfortable at best.

Oh yeah, there’s also its perilous steepness, which ranges from 11.1% at the bottom to 18.3% in its final rise.

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The climb averages 12% over its 1.1 km total length, but there are sections that exceed 18%.

By comparison, Mont Ventoux, one of the iconic climbs of the Tour de France, peaks at 12% and the Muur van Geraardsbergen in Belgium, that has been a decisive climb in big-time professional bike races like the Tour of Flanders, rises an average of 9.3% over its 1,075 metres over bumpy, tire-eating cobbles that can rattle the fillings from your teeth.

The pavement on Gatensbury’s new MUP is smooth tarmac, not yet heaved by straying tree roots or ravaged by winter freezes and thaws.

The path is also wide — maybe not wide enough to allow teetering cyclists to weave their own switchbacks to stay upright, but certainly wide enough for pedestrians and riders going uphill to pass each other easily.

According to Strava, an online app that allows cyclists and runners to upload data from their GPS devices, 43 cyclists have completed the segment called “Todds Gatensbury climb,” which is .94 km from the base of the hill at Henry and Grant streets to Bartlett Avenue at the top, this year. The fastest was Matthew Cox, a Port Moody cyclist who made it to the top in four minutes, four seconds. That’s an average speed of 13.9 km/h and well off the all-time record of 17.7 km/h by Brett Wakefield back in 2015, when the road was in much worse shape and there was no MUP. Some notable athletes have also tackled Gatensbury, including Canadian Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield — he did it in 3:49 in 2013.

At the start of the MUP, after a warmup pedal from The Tri-City News’ office in Port Coquitlam, I could only dream of such blinding uphill speed. In fact, I just wanted to survive without my knees, or heart, exploding.

The climbing starts at a modest 3.9% at Henry and Moody streets but by the time it hits its first switchback, it touches 17%. It’s about then I realize I’m still in second gear. I veer into a driveway to change gears because doing so under high torque in a difficult climb can blow apart a derailleur.

The second switchback is consistently around 15% but goes as steep as 18.2%.

But the nastiness is just getting started.

Looking ahead, the road straightens, the gradient moderates slightly and the end seems in sight. The bike computer says I’m doing 6.6 km/h but, gasping for breath and rocking side-to-side, it feels like I’m standing still.

Then, the road veers left to reveal its cruelest twist: more climbing, some of it is as steep as 17.3%.

I reach Bartlett Avenue 7:09 after I started the climb, the 25th-fastest — or 18th slowest — ascent of the segment recorded on Strava so far this year.

As I turn to  cross the road and collect my reward — a speedy descent on Gatensbury’s smooth, new pavement — a cyclist on an electric-assist bike with fat, cushy tires, cruises nonchalantly by on the uphill side. He’s smiling, with barely a bead of sweat on his brow.

Maybe he has the right idea.

Requiem for a friend, and mentor

We all have mentors. They’re the people who show us the way, whether they know it or not.
Mine was Ron Kuzyk. He was a steelworker and a hell of a photojournalist who worked the weekend shift we came to share for a stretch at the Burlington Post, where I started my career.
Ron passed away this week.

In 1984, I was just out of journalism school and determined to use a camera as my storytelling tool of choice. Circumstances that summer connected me to George Tansley, then the chief photographer at the Post. He said he could offer me some shifts to relieve his weekend guy who spent his weekdays working at Stelco and sometimes needed a break from the grind.

That guy was Ron.

We probably first met in the studio/darkroom one of those weekends; he was likely passing through to collect something, and I was probably trying to figure out how I too could get some of the great shots that were printed and hung on the walls of the studio and down the hall outside it. I particularly remember a colour wintry silhouette of a kid balancing on a fence, arms and leg splayed out; I loved that photo.

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My friend, and mentor, Ron Kuzyk, was the king of the silhouette. He loved shooting them, even as editors told him they needed to see faces in the newspaper. Of course, when Ron came back from an assignment with one of his beautiful silhouettes, it inevitably ran in the paper, usually on the front page.

Of course it, and many of the others, was shot by Ron.

Especially the sports.

I knew I wanted to be able to shoot sports like Ron.

He could capture peak action like nobody’s business, but he also had a keen eye for those quiet moments, like the kid stealing a glance back at his coach, the consoling hand on a player’s shoulder, the goofiness of 5 year-old t-ballers.

And, amazingly, he didn’t need big time pro athletes or glorious bright arena lighting to get his great sports photos. He made them in dark high school gyms, dusty sandlot baseball diamonds and pocked minor soccer pitches.

Over the course of that summer, as Ron and I crossed paths, we became buddies. He encouraged me, talked me through the frustrations of learning how to shoot with the Hasselblad because the big colour transparencies made for better front page colour reproduction. But mostly he showed me the way with his eye and his instincts.

Whenever I had the chance, I studied his contact sheets, checked out his prints, paid attention to his byline (although, by the second week I was already pretty good at spotting a Ron shot in the paper), and when my shooting shifts came, I distilled what I learned to get in the right position for a good baseball shot, look all around at a spot news scene to find that storytelling moment, seek out a fun juxtaposition at a community event.

When I happened to be in the darkroom and he popped by for a studio shot, I studied how he set up the lights and, more importantly, how he made his subjects feel at ease, joked with them, broke through their guard to find something that captured the story they were there to tell.

Ron was the most natural, instinctual photojournalist I ever met. More importantly, he was also the most fun. Because as much as we liked to bitch about shooting pet of the week or real estate features, as much as the repetitiveness of shooting the same cycle of community events year after year wore down your creativity, he really got a kick out of his job, and that joy came through in every one of his frames (well maybe not the photos of used cars for dealer ads).

The next summer, all the lessons I’d absorbed from Ron paid off when I landed a full-time gig at Oshawa This Week.

On the weekends I wasn’t working, I often came back to Burlington to visit my family and hang with Ron. Usually over beers, sometimes in the vicinity of naked women dancing on stages. We kibitzed and kvetched as professional colleagues. We also complained, because that’s what journalists do when we get together (oh, if only we knew then what was coming for our industry, for our profession…)

But when Ron finally made the decision to cut his ties — and the big paycheque — to Stelco, he was over the moon with delight, thrilled to be working full-time at his passion even if it meant keeping his heap blue car that smelled like an ashtray on the road a little longer.

There were often adventures on those weekends, usually involving Post sports reporters Kevin Nagel, Dave Rashford and Tim Whitnell as well; road hockey in the back parking lot on New Street, some ice hockey games, the annual Metroland slo-pitch tournament, a concert or two.

When a group of us bought a tournament package for the 1987 Canada Cup series, Ron somehow managed to get photo accreditation for the climactic final so when Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky and the rest of that amazing Canadian team were celebrating their victory on the ice at Copp’s Coliseum, we were peering through our binoculars from the upper deck at Ron sliding around working the scrums. Oh yeah, he scored an amazing photo of the two superstars celebrating, jumping into each other’s arms behind the net in his corner. Like I said, Ron had great instincts for timing.

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Ron Kuzyk and a great love, and eye, for shooting sports. He also had that innate instinct for being in the right place at the right time with the right lens. Oh yeah, and also for finagalling accreditation for bigtime events even though he worked for a community paper.

When I headed west in 1991, our contact became more sporadic.

He came out once, riding shotgun in his brother’s big rig. I drove him around, showing him my new turf, including a bar or two that may or may not have had a brass pole. I think the motel in Port Coquitlam where he stayed burned down shortly after his visit.

Again with the timing.

When I was home for a visit, we’d go for beers or lunch and shoot the shit about old times, compare notes about our current situations.

But I’ve always felt Ron’s guiding hand, tried to follow his eye, even as I forged my own path as a community photojournalist.

I know the changes to our industry weren’t easy for Ron. He was old-school, driven to get the shot and to hell with all the bullshit of the business.

After he left the Post, we caught up a few times on my visits back to Ontario. I think one of those times I managed to tell him how much impact he’d had on my own career, how those early exchanges in the Post studio set me on my path.

We also tried connecting on social media, but Ron was never one for the Facebook, unless he was trading/peddling his vinyl records. I think he Tweetered about 12 times.

But even as our contact waned, Ron was often in my thoughts. He’s the reason I park myself about three metres back of first base at a baseball game so I can reach second base for a steal or double play, but also can grab a close play at first. He’s the reason I sit instead of stand at the touchline of a soccer match because that means a cleaner background. He’s the reason I keep my eye on the bench near the end of a big game as much as on the playing arena. He’s the reason I’m still trying to emulate that great wintry silhouette of a kid balancing on a fence.

Thanks Ron, my friend. RIP

Coquitlam’s Junior Firefighting program an adrenalin-pumping sampler

While their friends have been soaking up the sunshine and catching their breath for the final push to the end of the school year, a dozen students from SD43 high schools spent the first half of their spring break learning the challenges of being a firefighter.
The pulled heavy hoses and rolled them up. They compressed the chest of a dummy while practising CPR. They cut open a car with high-power tools. They dangled from the end of ropes, rappelling from the four-storey training tower at the main Coquitlam fire hall.
The students were participating in Coquitlam Fire and Rescue’s first Junior Firefighting program that wrapped up Friday with a showcase for parents and family members of the skills they learned through the eight days prior.
And those weren’t inconsiderable, said deputy fire chief Rod Gill, who helped organize the program.
“They’re packing about eight weeks of the recruit program into eight straight days,” he said, adding the participants weren’t given a weekend break so they wouldn’t forget some of the things they were taught.
Gill said the program is a bit of a sampler of everything a firefighter might be expected to do, from routine tasks to adrenalin-pumping high-angle rescues.
“It’s about giving the students a chance to see what it’s like to be a firefighter.”
Gill said the students invited to participate had to first pass a rigorous application process that included letters of reference, a transcript of their school marks and volunteer activities, as well as an interview.
“We want to see they’re motivated,” he said.
And while one of the goals of the program is to help attract a more diverse population to a firefighting career, Gill said only time will tell if this inaugural cohort that included several young women, will follow through.
“It’s kind of a jumping-off point,” he said. “This is a perfect opportunity to see if this is something they want to do.”

Canoe a symbol of reconciliation

I had the opportunity to cover a special traditional dedication ceremony for a canoe to be installed at the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s new Healing Spirit House on the Riverview Lands, a provincial mental health facility.

The Kwikwetlem First Nation, along with representatives from the provincial government, dedicated a canoe at the Healing Spirit House in Coquitlam’s Riverview lands on Tuesday. The hand-carved ocean-going canoe will be installed permanently in the facility’s gymnasium, as a symbol of reconciliation with the province.

“In our view, reconciliation goes two ways,” Kwikwetlem First Nations chief Ron Giesbrecht said. “The province has demonstrated a willingness to work with KFN to right the wrongs of the past and dedication of this KFN canoe for display at the Healing Spirit House is our way of showing appreciation for our new relationship with the province.”

The Healing Spirit House will have 38 beds available for First Nations’ youth experiencing mental health issues by providing a welcoming and positive environment to allow them to heal.