Local female athletes preparing for fastball tournament at Pan Pacific Master Games in Australia this fall
Tina Peplinskie / Daily Observer : Area residents (from left) Pam Behnke-Van Hoof of Petawawa, Liz Cobb of Cobden and Joanne Duquette of Petawawa are preparing to participate in the Pan Pacific Master Games in Australia as members of the Ontario Strong ladies fastball team competing in the 45-plus open division.
A group of local woman are preparing for the journey of a lifetime this fall when they travel to Australia for the Pan Pacific Master Games.
Five Renfrew County residents will be members of the Ontario Strong ladies fastball team which will compete in the open division (45+ years old) at the games, which are scheduled for Nov. 2-11. Similar to the Olympics, the games will have opening and closing ceremonies featuring all of the nations taking part. More than 13,000 athletes from more than 30 countries will converge on the area to compete in approximately 40 sports in the world's biggest and best biennial masters games.
Among the local players is Pam Behnke-Van Hoof of Petawawa, who travelled to Auckland, New Zealand last year for the World Masters Games where the Ottawa Valley Strong team won bronze in the 45-plus recreational division. Because of that experience she was eager to compete again so started networking to try and get a team together for this year's event.
“That was a huge confidence boost for us,” she said.
She estimates she sent text messages and emails to about 40 people across Canada asking if they knew any sporty females over the age of 45. Once the names started rolling in, she was able to weed out the ones that don't play fastball and work towards getting a firm commitment from the ladies now on the team.
This time around she will be joined by five women that she played with last year, and will be welcoming newcomers Joanne Duquette of Petawawa, Liz Cobb of Cobden and Michelle Beale of Arnprior. The remaining women of the 14-player roster come from Almonte, Carp, Ottawa, Innerkip, Stratford, Brunner and Ayr.
Behnke-Van Hoof has been playing fastball since she was 13 years old when she started out on a team with her mom. She said once you are bitten by the fastball bug, there is no returning to the slower pace on the field. The other ladies agreed as Duquette called it a very strategic game while Cobb added there is no time for daydreaming on the field.
Duquette has been playing ball since she could hold a baseball bat, which she estimates is from the time she was around five years old, thanks to the influence of her two older brothers and her mom who played third base for a team in Hamilton, Ont. in the 1960s. When she was asked to join the team, she couldn't say yes quick enough.
“I've never been to something like this, so for me, really I have no words,” she said. “It is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
She feels lucky to have been asked to join the team with a core group that has played together before. She joked she would gladly ride the pine as long as she gets to go it in Australia. She also added she would love nothing more than to bring home a gold medal.
Although Cobb has never been away from her family for this long, she is looking forward to the opportunity to compete at this level. She has been involved in sports all of her life and previously played women's touch football at the national level as well as competitive ladies fastball in Pembroke when there was a league.
“I just love sports,” she said. “To be able to keep doing it just fantastic and to keep challenging yourself. It is great to promote fitness and to stay competitive as long as you can. Most of us have put our lives on hold for our kids and it is nice to focus on ourselves.”
Behnke-Van Hoof agreed.
“It is nice to get out and do something for ourselves,” she said.
This is also true when it comes to the fundraising the ladies must undertake in order to make the trip possible. She is still hoping to secure a sponsor for the team jerseys, but one of the main costs is the ground transportation from Brisbane to the Gold Coast for the players and back again at the end of the tournament.
“It is not very often you see middle age women out there doing fundraising for themselves because it is usually for the kids,” Behnke-Van Hoof added.
Since everyone is so spread out geographically, it is hard to get everyone together. Since some play in fastball leagues, the hope is to get everyone together in August so all of the players can meet and have a few practices.
The women have already held a couple of successful fundraisers but they have a couple of larger events coming up. The local team members will be hosting a Sip and Sign painting night at Kerry's Place on July 18. The cost is $50 per person and people must pre-register by July 16. There is also a four-ball best ball golf tournament at the Pembroke Golf Club on Aug. 11. The cost is $85 per person, which includes 18 holes of golf, a cart, dinner and door prizes. To register for either of these events, or to discuss jersey sponsorship or other fundraising ideas, contact Pam Behnke-Van Hoof at 613-401-7543. For information on future fundraisers, you can check out the Ontario Strong Ladies Softball Team on Facebook.