Georgia Ellenwood was a three-time participant at the Canadian Legion track and field championships, but the first time they are being held in her own back yard — Langley’s McLeod Park — she will be volunteering instead of competing.
But that’s OK with the Langley teen.
“I prefer to travel (for my competitions) anyways,” she said with a laugh.
Instead, Ellenwood will help out as part of the hurdles crew.
They feature 1,000 of the top youth athletes in the sport from across the country, and many of them may be just like Ellenwood and go on to represent Canada in their later years.
Ellenwood, who turns 18 on Aug. 5, is one of Canada’s preeminent track and field stars.
She is representing Canada at the Pan American junior championships in Colombia at the end of August — her third international competition — and then leaves for her freshman season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers track and field team. All of this is in pursuit of her ultimate dream of representing Canada at the Olympic Games.
She is being touted as a potential participant for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Competing at the Legion track and field championships in 2010 as a 15-year-old was a real eye-opener for Ellenwood.
The Legion championships are an annual track and field meet for the top Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 17.
Prior to that event, Ellenwood was accustomed to dominating meets.
The month before the Legion championships, she won four gold medals and was awarded the W.R. Bennett Award for Athletic Excellence at the B.C. Summer Games.
But this was her first time at a national meet and while she still did extremely well — a gold in the high jump, silver in the long jump, 1600 sprint relay and the 4×100 relay, and also fourth in the 200m hurdles — it was an eye-opener for someone who was used to finishing first in every event they entered.
“Before that, I was winning everything,” Ellenwood explained.
“And then I got there, and saw the competition and it was kind of humbling.”
The experience taught her something.
“After that, I knew what it took to get to the top,” she said. “I realized I really needed to work if I wanted to get there.”
Ellenwood attended the Legion championships twice more, winning gold in the heptathlon in 2011 and then gold in the 200m and long jump in 2012.
She has already represented her country internationally, both at the world youth (17 and under) track and field championships in 2010 in France and then at the world junior (19 and under) track and field championships in Spain last year. Both times she competed as an underage athlete.
Next up will be Colombia and then hopefully, in three years time, Rio de Janeiro and the Olympics.
She has spent time in Arizona training with the Canadian Olympic Development Program, which aims to identify elite young athletes and help them train as they work towards the Olympics and world championships.
For Ellenwood it is all in pursuit of the ultimate dream: the Olympics.
“I always thought of the world youths as my first Olympics,” Ellenwood said.
“I am still so young and have a lot to work on, but that is my long-term goal.”
Ellenwood will track the current elite heptathlon athletes and compare her scores now to when they were her age to see how she measures up.
And while some teenagers may have a tough time waiting for something three years down the road, that is not a problem for Ellenwood.
“I would be impatient (for the Olympics) if I was already at that level, but I still have so much to work on that I am going to need these three years,” she said.
“I am going to use those three years wisely.”
Moving away from home — and her long-time coaches with the Langley Mustangs Track and Field Club, Kim Chapdelaine, Dwayne Lotnick and Tom Nielsen — will be an adjustment.
“They are always helping me through everything,” Ellenwood said.
“If I need an extra workout, I just have to text them and they will meet me at the track.”
“And my parents can be hard on me — ‘you need to work on this, you need to work on that’ — it can almost be like having five coaches, but it has really helped me to get to where I am.”
She will also have to adjust to less family support in person as at most local meets, Ellenwood will have her parents and all four grandparents in attendance.
“That is why I think I am going to grow up a lot at Wisconsin,” she said.
While some athletes are groomed from a young age for success in a sport, Ellenwood found track and field through her older brother, Stuart, who is now a member of the SFU cross-country and track and field teams.
Youngest brother Dean is also involved in the sport, competing with the Mustangs and at the high school level.
The siblings’ parents, Dave and Kari, wanted to sign Stuart up and younger sister Georgia tagged along and took part too. She was hooked.
“I absolutely loved it; it was just a fun thing,” she said.
“I had springs in my legs; I was bouncy (and) I just had natural talent.
“I didn’t know it of course, I was just running around the track.”
She was 11 and a few years later, her coaches began training her harder and pushing her.
It was at this point, Ellenwood realized she would need to put the work in if she wanted to go places through the sport.
And the Legion experience — coupled with representing Canada — confirmed she was chasing the right dream.
“That is when I I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
Ellenwood still remembers the first time she saw her Canadian jersey.
“I looked at the stuff and saw I was going to be wearing Canada on my jersey instead of B.C. or Langley,” she recalled. “It was just a whole other level.”
And while she didn’t medal at any of her international events, just the fact Ellenwood was meeting like-minded individuals was something special.
“They have so much pride in their country, it is inspiring,” Ellenwood said.
“Being around people who share that same passion and goals and views as I do, is really cool.”
And she hopes to inspire others.
“I have heard some girls say ‘I am Georgia’ as they jump into the long jump pit,” she said with a smile, referring to the younger members of the Mustangs.
“I know they look up to me, which I take pride in.
“They started out just like I was and it is cool to see them grow and learn and get better through the year.”
The road to where she is today has not been without its bumps.
Just at the start of this season, Ellenwood was questioning herself as she felt the competition was getting better while she remained stagnant.
“I felt like everything had stopped and I wasn’t getting better,” she explained.
“And that is what I am so afraid of, that I am going to just stop and not keep progressing anymore.”
“I actually did one heptathlon where I didn’t get one PB (personal best) and that has never happened to me before,” she added.
“That is where patience comes in, you just have to work through it.”
And she rebounded from that early season ‘slump’, winning four medals at the B.C. high school track and field championships, including a fourth straight heptathlon title.
She leaves high school as one of the most decorated B.C. athletes of all time, winning 10 gold and three silver medals in her four years.