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National Longboat awards announced


Sam Laskaris, Windspeaker Contributor, Akwasane, Ont.







Page 18

A world champion and a Paralympic gold medallist are this year's national recipients of the Tom Longboat Award.

The awards honor Canada's most outstanding Aboriginal athletes.

Lara Mussell, an ultimate Frisbee player who lives in Maple Ridge, B.C., is the female athlete for 2004. And the male winner is Richard Peter, a wheelchair basketball player, who lives in Vancouver.

Both were presented with their awards at a ceremony on April 21 in Miramichi, N.B. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

Before winning the national awards, both Mussell and Peter were named as the regional winners for British Columbia for the Tom Longboat Awards.

This marked the second straight year Mussell had been selected as her province's top female athlete.

Mussell, a Sto:lo Native, was the captain of the Canadian squad that won the world ultimate Frisbee team championships in Turku, Finland this past August. About 30 countries sent teams to the world tournament, which is held every four years.

Mussell said winning the regional and national Tom Longboat Awards has benefited her sport's profile. That's because she said various newspapers have written stories about her accomplishments.

"That in itself has helped the sport as people are talking about it," she said.

Mussell, 30, has been a member of the national team since 1998. And she's glad to see the sport's popularity is rising across the country.

"Ultimate Frisbee is not as well-known as baseball or soccer," said Mussell, who was also a member of the Canadian squad that won the 2000 world crown in Germany. "Usually in the past I'd tell people I play ultimate Frisbee and they'd say ultimate what? But I'm finding that it's less and less that I have to explain the sport."

Capturing the Tom Longboat Award for her efforts is even more gratifying for Mussell as she is taking a one-year absence from her sport in 2005.

"It's been a long year and I need a break," said Mussell, insisting she is not retiring from the sport. "This award has been a sweet wrap up for me. It means so much to me.

"It's been a long journey for me playing with the national team."

As for Peter, this marks the second time he has won the national Tom Longboat Award.

He previously won for his performances in 2000, after helping Canada win a gold medal at the Paralympics which were staged in Sydney, Australia that year.

Peter, 32, was also a member of the Canadian squad that defended its gold medal at last year's Paralympics in Athens, Greece.

"It's always great to be recognized," Peter said of his latest award.

Peter was also thrilled the Canadian men's wheelchair basketball club was named as the top male team at the National Sports Awards held in Toronto in March.

"We're definitely quite happy to be given that award," said Peter, a Cowichan Native.

Peter has been a paraplegic since the age of four when he was run over by a school bus while playing on a road.

He said he was pleased to see individuals from his province win three out of the four top Tom Longboats.

"B.C. is a very sports oriented province," he said. "It's a great sports hub for both athletes and coaches."

Meanwhile, a pair of other individuals-Kara Jan Willie of B.C. and Manitoba's Faron Asham-also received national Tom Longboat Awards as the top Aboriginal female and male coaches.

This past year Willie served as the assistant coach for the varsity women's soccer team with B.C.'s Malaspina University Mariners.

Willie is a member of the Musgamagw-Tsawatainuek First Nation.

As for Asham, he was the head coach of the Manitoba Youth Selects, an under-17 provincial baseball squad.

Asham, who is Metis, guided the squad to a bronze medal at last year's Baseball Canada Cup tournament.