With the Summer Olympics being held in Japan right now, a trio of women from Alberta are becoming quite excited.
The three; Kyra Christmas and Kelly McKee from Calgary and Kindred Paul from Edmonton are all members of the Canadian Women’s Water Polo team which has qualified for Tokyo.
Certainly for many, water polo is neither a widely familiar sport or one played by the masses in Canada, but for Christmas it was just the sport she was meant to play.
Growing up in High River, Christmas said she learned to swim in the summer program when she was small.
Then fate seemed to play its hand. A fellow in the community had at one time played on the national water polo team in South Africa, and he started a program.
“Our family got really into it,” said Christmas on a call from California where the Canadian team was fine tuning for the Olympics.
The interest started with Christmas’ brothers.
“I was at every game that they had watching them,” she said, adding she was always asking “when can I start.”
For Christmas sports was always something she gravitated to, basketball, track and field, cross country, but they weren’t quite her thing.
“I always just had a love for the water,” she said.
And, when introduced to water polo it was the sport for her.
“It was just everything I was looking for,” said Christmas.
And she was good at it.
It wasn’t long before Christmas was traveling almost daily to Calgary for water polo, where she watched the national men’s team train too.
“I was just in awe of everything they did,” she said, adding in 2008 the men’s team qualified for the Olympic. “. . . It was a super big deal for them ... they weren’t expected to.”
Watching the men practice Christmas said she set her mind on become a national player.
“I said ‘this is something I want to do’,” she said.
Christmas was named to her first youth national team in 2012 when she was 15 years old.
The next year, she joined the junior national team and competed at the junior editions of the Pan American and World Championships, noted www.olympic.ca.
In 2016, she was selected to the senior national team and played in her first senior international tournament, the FINA World League Super Final. She helped Canada win gold at the 2016 Junior Pan American Championships in Edmonton where she was the tournament MVP.
In 2017, she won silver at the FINA World League Super Final and helped Canada to a fourth-place finish at the FINA World Championships.
Qualifying for Tokyo of course is a huge highlight for Christmas.
“It’s such a collective goal. It’s something you want so bad,” she said.
And then it happens.
“It’s definitely a surreal moment,” said Christmas. “. . . You don’t necessarily feel it in yourself right away, but you see the emotion in everybody else.”
Later it hits you, said Christmas.
“I’m going to the Olympics,” she said.
Of course this Olympic journey has been a rollercoaster ride. The team qualified in 2019, for Games that were to be held in 2020, but postponed for COVID.
“It’s been crazy,” said Christmas, adding when the Games delay was announced it was a blow. “. . .The postponement, we were all bummed about it.”
But, there was nothing the team could do, so they decided to use the added year “to get better,” said Christmas.
The Games this summer could be something extra special too, said Christmas.
“I think in the end it will be a positive experience,” she said, adding people are going to see the Games going forward as something of a sign that things are finally getting back closer to normal after months of pandemic.
And, all the challenges the team has faced with closed pools and meeting through Zoom and training alone, has made the team better, assured Christmas.
Not that things will be easy.
“Everybody’s going to be so good at that level,” she said.