A local pioneer of speedskating in this region was recently honoured by the national association for his 46 years of service to the sport as a coach.
George Donatelli hadn’t even learned to skate until he was 30 years old, but that didn’t stop him from getting his oldest child, James, into the sport shortly after the Mission Leisure Centre was first constructed in the 1970s.
Donatelli’s next child, Eden, was almost two years younger than her brother, and took to the sport immediately.
“She put herself in [speedskating],” he recalled with a gentle chuckle, and everyone could see she had the makings of an exceptional athlete and was setting Canadian records in short order.
Donatelli eventually took over coaching the 17 kids who were showing up to learn in the 1971-72 season, and he hasn’t stopped.
Eden went on to compete in the world championships in Montreal at 16 years old, winning a gold medal in the 500 m. She moved to Montreal to train as a member of the Calgary Olympic relay team, and went on to win silver and bronze medals at the 1988 Olympics, plus a host of honours at numerous international and national competitions. She was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Donatelli has helped a number of people achieve success in the sport, including Langley’s Courtney Shymr, who represented Canada at the Junior Short Track Speed Skating World Championships, Alec Jansens, from Sardis, who skated his way onto the national long track development team, and Maple Ridge’s Michelle MacKay, who became the Canadian short track champion for her age class.
He also set up the speedskating program for the B.C. Winter Games in 1977-78.
The sport has always struggled to attract athletes, mostly due to the overwhelming influence of hockey in Canada. Donatelli said there were 850 speedskaters when he first began in the sport, and that number is the same today.
All these successes, and the nearly five decades of volunteer work saw Donatelli earn Speed Skating Canada’s Coaches Award of Excellence for 2012.
“I just love working with kids. It’s very gratifying,” he said.
Donatelli has about 35 children he’s coaching out of Sardis currently, and says he’s unsure when he’ll retire.
“I’m just going year by year,” he said.