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Sports help keep Kennedys connected

By Don Fennell

Published 1:58 PDT, Fri June 19, 2020

Last Updated: 3:47 PDT, Fri June 19, 2020

The Kennedys are the epitome of the family that plays together.

Multiple basketballs and bicycles dropped off in a corner of the garage reflect just two of their many athletic pursuits. And the odometer reading on the well-used minivan indicates the multiple journeys made by the family of six—each day, before the pandemic slowed their busy sports schedules.

Chris and Stephanie Kennedy’s love for sports was spawned in childhood, where they began to learn to appreciate the journey as much as the victory. The couple eagerly passed along the sentiment to their four children, all of whom are equally passionate about sports.

“We always wanted our kids to be active. From young ages, we encouraged trying a range of sports—everything from field hockey to soccer, baseball to triathlon, and basketball to cheer,” says Chris. “It’s about creating a lifelong appreciation for sports, and a connection to community.”

Adds Stephanie: “When Chris and I first met we were both very active in coaching. Seeing the impact sports had on the students we taught, we both saw what a positive and sometimes life-saving difference their involvement in sport and their connections to us and their teammates made. Knowing this, we were adamant that sports would be something we would expose our children to early on.”

Liz, at 18 the eldest of the four Kennedy siblings, has emerged as an outstanding basketball player. Recently awarded an athletic scholarship to St. Francis Xavier University to continue playing the game she loves, Liz can point to a tireless work ethic—handed down from her parents—for her success. She also remembers fondly accompanying her dad to watch the senior girls’ basketball team play at Port Coquitlam‘s Riverside high school, where Chris worked at the time. 

“These were the first times I ever saw girls competing in sports at a high level, and exposing that to me at a young age showed me I had a future in sports,” she explains. “I love to compete.”

By their own standards not the most talented athletes, both Chris and Stephanie made up for natural skill with an insatiable work ethic. And they soaked up every opportunity they were afforded to participate. They’ve encouraged their children to do the same through experiencing as many sports as possible.

At a young age, Stephanie discovered a passion for gymnastics and routinely spent 16 or more hours in the gym each week. In addition to the sport itself, she enjoyed the opportunity to socialize. 

Influenced by one of her own coaches, Pamela Ashworth, an affinity to coach soon followed. 

“My love of working with little kids got me involved, and the time (Ashworth) spent with me fostering my special skill is why I am the coach I am today,” Stephanie says. “I am forever grateful to her for getting me started.”

Playing multiple sports growing up, Chris was fortunate that so many of his elementary teachers like George Nakanishi, Ken Whitehead and Don Taylor encouraged a sports culture. 

“By Grade 9, I was already into coaching and earning money officiating basketball, volleyball and baseball,” Chris says. “Almost all the best people I know in the world I have met through sports. From officials to coaches to players, my network is full of amazing people. I stay involved because it gives me purpose. 

Stephanie says her love of sports helps her stay healthy and happy.

“When I am committed to participating in something and regularly working out every day, I also think it makes me a better parent, wife, coach and business owner (Panther Cheer),” she adds. “It also makes me a calmer, more rational, patient and grateful human being. This matters. Sports are the No. 1 way to relieve stress and help us manage our lives. This is the message I want to ensure my kids get from sports. This is a lifelong pursuit, a lifelong journey and commitment that will help them through all the tough times that lay ahead.

Remaining actively involved in Richmond’s strongly-rooted sports community, in both coaching and administrative capacities, Stephanie and Chris have also been fortunate to work with the children of some of the athletes they earlier coached. But, the strong connection to the athletic community has been at times challenging for their own four kids. 

“There is often pressure and expectations, but I am impressed with how they handled this,” says Chris. “Each of them has carved out a different sports journey. They all have a great perspective that sports are not the (end) goal, the skills and lessons gained through sports are what matter.”

Chris adds that the volunteers who help make youth sports happen deserve to be lauded. But, he says in recent years the role of youth sports has unfortunately also began to shift away from the kids. 

“I want to help push it back and promote the values that I have seen be important over my 34 years of coaching,” he says. “I am hoping we emerge from this pandemic with sports being more child-focused.”

At 11-years-old the youngest of the Kennedy clan, Katie has grown up watching many of her brothers’ and sister’s sporting adventures and picturing herself in their positions. Now, she’s forging her own sporting moments.

“Two of my favourite experiences in sports are from when I got to go to Dallas to compete in the NCA Nationals, which is one of the biggest cheer competitions in the world. Another favourite experience was when I went to provincials in swimming and I got my first individual medal and three others in relays—including two gold.” 

Swimming is the sport of choice for Nick Kennedy, 16, the second eldest of the siblings. At the BC high school swimming championships earlier this year, he found himself in a unique situation competing in a meet that also featured Liz and 14-year-old Zack. It was a special moment. 

But Nick also retains good memories of partaking in many different sports when he was younger including baseball, soccer, track and even the triathlon. Even during the restrictions resulting from the pandemic, he tries to find a way to stay active every day. 

Liz does her best to stay connected with teammates, and to stick to a regular routine with a focus on controlling what she can. 

Soccer and track top Zack‘s favourite sports list. He appreciates the contrast between the two. 

“I enjoy soccer because you work with others to accomplish your goal, but track is more individual so it’s easier to see if you’ve made progress. I also like that both sports are very competitive.”

Observing their kids’ sporting journeys, Stephanie and Chris say the many benefits of their participating in sports extend far beyond the wins and losses. 

Stephanie says sports has fostered a competitive spirit in her children and shown them that you only succeed with hard work and perseverance. 

“And it has taught them about responsibility—not only to themselves, but to their teams. There is nothing quite like having to wake yourself up at 4:45 every morning to head to the pool for swim practice.”

Says Chris: “I love how sports fuels passion in young people and makes them feel connected. Sports are a place where you can have setbacks, refocus, and try again tomorrow. What a great mindset.”

That’s reflected in Katie’s summary of what she misses most about the old ‘normal’—“I miss being able to wake up in the morning everyday with a purpose, knowing exactly what I want to accomplish. And at every practice or competition being able to say: ‘it’s time to get better’.”

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