When the Canadian team enters the stadium at the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Rio on August 5, Islington United Church member Jean MacLennan will be watching closely. For at the very front of that team will be her 27-year-old granddaughter, Rosannagh (Rosie) MacLennan, a seasoned trampoline gymnast.
“As a grandmother, I’m as proud as I can be of her,” says Jean. “I think she is wonderful, not only as an Olympian, but she is a nice, nice person. When she does have time off, she comes to church with me, which is lovely.”
Rosie MacLennan made her world championship debut in 2005 and won her first medal, a bronze, in 2007. She added another bronze in 2010 before winning silver in 2011. At her second Olympic Games in London in 2012, she won Canada’s only gold medal, after performing the most difficult routine of the competition.
While she is hoping to add to that medal count in these Games, her selection as flagbearer for the Canadian squad is a real honour, her grandmother says.
“She was truly humbled by that, very humbled but very thrilled,” Jean says. “She actually called me the night before, and told me that if I could keep a secret for a few hours, she could tell me something. She was really very excited.
”I just hope she does well. I an extremely proud of her, mostly because she is so pleasant and humble. She’s not a bragging kid at all.”
Another Olympian at Rio with strong United Church ties is Lynda Kiejko. She will compete in the 10-metre and 25-metre pistol events, and St. Andrew’s United Church in Edmonton is already cheering her on. As that church posted on Facebook, “Lynda was our Youth Program coordinator when she was a student in Edmonton. Way to go, Lynda!”
Kiejko’s father, the late Bill Hare (nicknamed the Pistol-Packing Preacher), was a United Church minister as well as an Olympian pistol shooter who competed at the Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Her sister Dorothy Ludwig, was also an Olympic shooter. They competed together at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games, winning bronze in the 10-metre air pistol pair event.
On her profile on the Canadian Olympic team site, Kiejko notes that she “volunteers at Central United Church and “always travels with a loonie from her first major competition, the 2003 Pan Am Games.”
A Little Romance, a horse owned by Anita and Don Leschied of Woodslee, Ontario, will also be part of Team Canada's eventing team, meaning it will compete in cross-country, dressage and stadium jumping at Rio. The Leschieds are long-time active members of Glenwood United Church in Windsor. A Little Romance will be ridden by Jessica Phoenix.
Church members have also been active behind the scenes at the Games. David Armour, the church’s Director of Philanthropy, developed the Canadian Olympic Foundation. Since being established in 2007, it has raised more than $43 million to fund the Canadian Olympic team, the next generation of Olympic athletes and the Canadian sport system.
Tim Stevenson, a United Church minister, was the first openly gay MLA elected in British Columbia. In 2014, he represented the City of Vancouver as Deputy Mayor at the Sochi Olympics. He met with the President's Office of the International Olympics Committee and urged them to add "sexual orientation" to the Olympic Charter. They subsequently did so. He is married to Gary Paterson, a former Moderator of the church.
-Paul Russell is Communications Coordinator with the Office of the Moderator and General Secretary.