Olympic torchbearer from Barrie has district roots

Peggy Revell

Born and raised in Rainy River District, Stacey Collins (nee Wroblowsky) is set to become a part of Olympic history later this month as she takes her turn carrying the Olympic flame on its journey across Canada.
“It is humbling and a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to be chosen to run with a bit of history and a part of the future at the same time,” noted Collins, who currently lives in Barrie, Ont. with her husband and three children.
“[And] to be a part of an event that unites countries and cultures, and has so many life lessons to teach,” she added.
Selected by the Royal Bank of Canada as a 2010 Olympic torchbearer, Collins will be taking a hold of the Olympic flame at 6:17 p.m. on Dec. 30 and running part of its route through North Bay.
“It’s more of a symbolic run,” she said, noting her stretch (as all the others) is just 300 metres in length.
“It’s amazing the structure they have for this,” Collins said. “They have exactly what house number I start at on Lakeshore Drive in North Bay—and I run 300 metres and then pass off the torch.”
Collins expects the most memorable part of the experience to be when she officially lights her torch with the flame from the previous torchbearer.
The torch relay began Oct. 30 in Victoria, B.C. When it arrives back on the West Coast for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on Feb. 12 to mark the beginning of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver/Whistler, the flame will have traveled 45,000 km across the country, visited more than 1,000 communities, and been carried by 12,000 torchbearers.
“I’ve had a few of my friends teasing me on Facebook going, ‘Don’t be the one that trips or slips, or shall I send you grips?’ So it’s been fun,” Collins laughed about the build-up to the 62nd day of the relay which she is set to run on.
Her husband, Steve, and their three children, Liam, 12, Abby, 10, and Owen, seven, her parents, Walter and Carrol Wroblowsky, and her grandmother, Elva Wedlake from Atikokan, will be cheering her along the way along with some “die-hard friends willing to make the three hour trek to North Bay.”
The path to becoming an Olympic torchbearer began last March when Collins saw a commercial during a hockey game for the contest being held by the RBC, and immediately signed up online.
“There’s a whole section where you talk about yourself, about your family, and what your role is in Canada,” she explained.
What she chose to speak about was her family and how they are focused on naturalist and environmental sorts of things, whether it’s around the house or the numerous “outdoorsy” activities they do together, such as camping, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking.
“And that probably stems from me being from the north, my background,” she added.
Collins grew up in Emo, where she attended Donald Young School, then moved to Fort Frances to attend Fort Frances High.
Her father was a community police officer for the OPP out of Emo, she noted, while her mother was a nurse at the hospital in Emo. Her aunt, Heather Johnson, currently is branch manager at the RBC in Fort Frances.
“Fort Frances is where I grew up, it’s my hometown, and I’ll always connect with that, and I’m very proud of it,” Collins said, noting that “it’s amazing” how many stories she hears from people in southern Ontario who have been to the Rainy River District at some point.
With the first draw for RBC torchbearers taking place in April, Collins recalled she didn’t hear anything and assumed that with thousands applying, she hadn’t made it.
But what she hadn’t realized at the time was that there was a second draw for torchbearers in August.
“I was very surprised, it was a shock initially. I didn’t believe it,” she said about her reaction to the e-mail she received saying she had been selected from this second draw.
“I didn’t realize they were doing another draw in August, so I was shocked at first. And then once I read it and went and checked out some of the information, I realized, ‘Wow, it really is.’
“I was very excited, overjoyed basically and thrilled, knowing that it was just basically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she enthused.
“When I think about the Olympics, I think about going for your goal, going for your dream, perseverance,” Collins explained, noting how this has tied into her recent experience working towards becoming a teacher.
Collins previously had worked as a recreation therapist. When her third child was born, she took a job as an educational assistant with the Simcoe County Board of Education.
Currently she’s working at a high school helping students at risk—some with disabilities and others with a “less than desirable” home life and family situations. But she also has gone back to school for her teacher certification.
“I was working a full-time job, [a] mother of three children, and going back to school full-time every other weekend in Buffalo, which is about a three hours’ drive from here,” she noted.
“So the last year-and-a-half have just had my head spinning,” she said, noting she finally received her certification as a teacher and as of Nov. 25 officially was put on the supply list for her local school board.
“So to have it all end up with now I’m on the teachers’ list and running with the Olympic torch—it’s kind of a neat experience,” she said.
Collins actually already has had a chance to hold the torch, and even met three-time Olympic athlete Jeff Bean.
While now “retired,” Bean was on the Canadian National Freestyle Ski Team (Aerials) for 11 years, and competed in the 1998, 2002, and 2006 Winter Games.
He finished in fourth place at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, won a silver medal in the 2005 world championships, and garnered 17 World Cup medals and two national titles.
Now he is doing motivational speaking and came to speak with the Grade 10 students at her school, Collins explained.
“He did a wonderful job,” she said. “He talked to our Grade 10s and gave them a motivational speech about when he broke his ankle and how he thought he was off the team, and how he fought back hard to get back on.
“It was fabulous for the Grade 10s to hear, ‘Don’t give up, keep going, set goals, and take it a step at the time,’” she added.
And even once her 300 metres are over, Collins has plans to bring her Olympic experience with her into the school.
As torchbearer, she has the chance to purchase the torch she runs with.
“In the future, I intend to use the torch to promote character education in my classrooms,” Collins explained. “Integrity, responsibility, co-operation, empathy, optimism, respect, honesty, caring, inclusiveness, courage.
“So although it is a one-time event for me, it will serve as a springboard to begin many lessons on character ed. development for our future citizens,” she reasoned.
While the Olympic torch won’t be travelling through Rainy River District, two locals have been chosen to carry the flame on its route along the Trans-Canada Highway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.
Fort Frances residents Anne Renaud and Christopher Lee were winners as part of Coca-Cola’s torchbearer contest.