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Support for Eganville track star Melissa Bishop continues to build towards Rio Olympics

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

EGANVILLE – It’s been a summer they’re not likely to forget in this tiny village on the banks of the Bonnechere.

Last weekend, residents joined in the monumental celebrations marking Eganville’s 125th anniversary. But the party’s not over yet. Over the next two weeks, folks here and across the region will be cheering on their favourite daughter as Melissa Bishop races for a medal in her second Olympics at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.

The atmosphere around town hasn’t yet reached a fever pitch but there is excitement and anticipation in the air. Front lawns and storefronts boast signs cheering on the humble track star, who turned 28 yesterday. Everywhere you go young and old are wearing red T-shirts with the words “Melissa Bishop Eganville’s Olympian” emblazoned in white lettering.

Everybody is behind her and everyone loves her,” a beaming Diane Moore exclaimed. On this particular day, she is wearing her red T-shirt autographed by the community’s most famous citizen since John Egan, himself.

She and her husband, Joe, could easily be credited with starting the engine of the Melissa Bishop bandwagon. When she qualified for the London Summer Olympics in 2012, they went to the hardware store, purchased some lumber and then came home and erected a huge sign in front of their home on Highway 60 just east of the village. After the disappointment of London, where she finished sixth in heat but did not advance to the semifinals, the couple stored the sign in the garage possessed with the belief that they would be pulling out again in four years.

It’s just a really fun, joyous time and we’re excited for her,” said Joe Moore as he waves to motorists honking their horns in approval of the sign. “She’s going to have stiff competition but she’s going to leave it all out there.”

Bishop isn’t the first Renfrew County native to pursue an Olympic dream. She follows in the footsteps of Round Lake whitewater kayaker Sheryl Boyle (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996) and Pembroke’s Sarah Boudens (Beijing 2008), however, there is a real sense around town that Melissa could bring home our first Olympic medal.

She’s grown so much as an athlete in the last four years and has continued to excel in the 800-metre,” said Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy. “We’re even more excited this time around.”

In addition to the signs, banners and T-shirts, a Melissa Bishop Olympic committee has been formed and will host three viewing parties at the Eganville District Public School on Wednesday, Aug. 17 (9:55 a.m.) when Bishop runs in the 800-metre preliminaries. Should she advance, the public will be invited back for viewing parties on Thursday, Aug. 18 (8:15 p.m.) and Saturday, Aug. 20 (8:15 p.m.). The committee also had a “Team Melissa” Facebook page inviting people from across the county to make their own lawn signs and submit pictures or leave words of encouragement for Melissa.

This is not just about Eganville,” added Murphy. “This is Renfrew County proud.”

The positive impact of having an Olympian from your town cannot be totally measured, however, Bonnechere Valley economic development co-ordinator Dana Jennings says they couldn’t ask for a better ambassador.

We’re very proud that she tells everyone she is from Eganville,” remarked Jennings. “She is a great role model, a great spokesperson and definitely a hometown girl.”

Bishop’s track career began at Opeongo High School where she captured the provincial title in the 400-metre during her junior year before capturing silver in the OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) cross-country final a year later. It was at that time that the sprinter decided she wanted to one day go to the Olympics.

The Eganville Leader’s Terry Fleurie has followed Bishop’s meteoric rise from her days as an Opeongo Wildcat to Olympian. Over the years, he has developed a good professional and personal relationship with not only Melissa but her large and supportive family.

She’s never lost focus on her roots here in the Valley,” said Fleurie. “She’s always considered herself an Eganville girl.”

The veteran sports reporter still fondly looks back on her first Olympic run in 2012 when more than 800 people packed the Eganville arena early one August morning to watch on a big screen as Bishop ran in the 800-metre heats in London. While the ending wasn’t what everyone had expected, it left a lasting impression, said Fleurie.

It was great to see one person and one event unite the county like that,” he explained. “She’s been such an incredible inspiration to the youth in the village and across the Valley.”

One of only three Canadian women to achieve a time of less than two minutes in the 800-metre, Bishop was coached at Opeongo by Dennis Brash who will be watching her races with eager anticipation. He recounted that his former student was always a fast runner but felt the 800-metre, one of the most gruelling events in track and field, was more suited to her abilities.

“She had an incredible ability to keep running,” said Brash. “She was fast but she was more comfortable in the tactics and the longer distances.”



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