On the cusp of competing in her first Olympic Games, this year’s Hometown Hero had a chance to look back on her accomplishments to this point from the comfort of her high school cafeteria.
“I honestly don’t think I’ve been back since I graduated,” said water polo star Monika Eggens, “So it’s pretty cool to be back.”
Pitt Meadows Secondary played host to her friends, family, teachers, old coaches, local politicians, as well as a slew of former Hometown Heroes, whose banners were on display next to hers.
Local sporting legends Kim Eagles, Greg Hart, Nathan Stein, Travis Gillespie, Leslie McPherson were all on hand to welcome Eggens to the exclusive club.
“These banners were hanging above my locker at school,” she said, “So I would always look up at them and hope to be up there one day.”
Although many of them were unaware they’d be asked to speak, the heroes had some poignant words to share with the audience.
“I was just saying to my husband on our way here that this is our twentieth Hometown Heroes banquet. We’re officially old,” joked former Olympian softball catcher Leslie McPherson.
“I look around this room and I’m like wow. I taught that kid, that kid came to my softball camps, I coached against that kid.
“I think that is the coolest thing about the Hometown Heroes program and that’s why I drag my kids here every year; because I really want them to see that we all came from this same environment.”
Eggens said inspiring those who come after her is the most important part of being a Hometown Hero.
“I hope that young athletes see this [banner] as I did growing up and see me as a role model the same way I look at many of the people in this room as role models,” she said
She also wanted to promote the sport which has brought her so much success.
“[Water polo is] not the most common sport but I think that we have really good programs within the community, and I want to get more and more kids involved.”
Nathan Stein, who is a two-time Paralympic swimmer, recalled an experience when the pair were on the bench of a water polo game, which he felt captured Eggens’ drive.
“Monika was really heart broken because she didn’t get to finish the game and she really, really wanted to,” he said.
“I didn’t think it was too big of a deal but as the years went by you want to keep going and you want to contribute any way that you can and Monika had that vibe.
“She never wanted to sit on the bench, she always wanted to be in the game, she always wanted to shoot, she always wanted to score.
“Now we look back on those days and I don’t think a single one of those people are playing water polo any more. I don’t think they’ve been playing for ten years.
“They didn’t win nationals, they aren’t going to the Olympics.
“Even thought she sat on the bench that day, she’s the one who is actually making it, she’s the one who’s putting her best foot forward and she is still inspiring.”