Jessica Hewitt has her Team Canada Olympic jacket, and she’s not planning on taking it off any time soon.
“I’m wearing it now,” said Hewitt, from Montreal. “I’m not going to take it off for a week.”
Hewitt, originally from Kamloops, has been nominated for Canada’s short track speed skating squad for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The announcement was made in Montreal on Thursday, 11 days after the qualifying trials ended.
With Hewitt performing well at the trials and with Speed Skating Canada inviting the 26-year-old to a Thursday news conference, she knew that, barring some sort of cruel joke, she was one of the 10 nominees.
It didn’t make it any less exciting, however.
“Ever since I’ve been a speed skater, it was a goal of mine to go to the Olympics,” she said. “When I used to watch on TV, I was so inspired by the athletes. I want to do that for little kids.”
Hewitt’s nomination for the Canadian team is a big deal, but it’s just one of the final steps before she actually appears in Sochi in February.
Canada and its skaters still have to earn their spots in the Olympics. They’ll try do to that at qualifying events in December.
According to Hewitt, who made Canada’s team in the 500 metres, she will have to finish among the top-32 at those events, which isn’t exactly a monumental challenge.
“I’m not nervous — just excited,” she said. “We have a really good group of girls.”
The other female members of Team Canada are Valerie Maltais, Marianne St-Gelais and Marie-Eve Drolet, all of Quebec, and Jessica Gregg of Edmonton. Brothers Charles and Francois Hamelin will lead the men, with fellow Quebecers Olivier Jean and Charle Cournoyer and Michael Gilday of Yellowknife also nominated.
Hewitt started skating with the Kamloops Long Blades when she was 10. She stuck with it, and ended up at Speed Skating Canada’s national training centre. In her career, she has competed in 19 World Cup events and three world championships.
“What made her stand out,” said Sandi Vyse, president of the Long Blades, “was her determination and her tenacity . . .
“The tenacity is the biggest thing . . . and she’s a fearless racer.”
When Hewitt showed up to skate with the Long Blades, she was like all the others, Vyse said. But Hewitt stuck with it, even through her teens, which is when a lot of athletes pack it in.
As Hewitt improved and became a bigger part of the club, her brother Mitch came out to skate.
“Mitch was a big part of Jessica being where she is,” Vyse said. “He came over from hockey, and he wasn’t as fast as she was.
“I remember the day he actually beat her. . . . She was mad, so mad. Just furious.
“But he helped her become the skater she is and is part of the reason she was able to move up to the national training centre.”
Hewitt won’t stop training now — she has four World Cup events to be ready for, and can increase her standing within Team Canada at the same time. The last two of those World Cup events — in Astana, Kazakhstan, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, and in Berlin from Dec. 6-8 — will serve as the Olympic qualifiers, where Hewitt will have to make the top-32.
She already is eligible to skate the 500m, but she could show coach Yves Hamelin — the father of Charles and Francois — that she can compete in another distance.
But that’s in the future, and Hewitt is trying to enjoy all of this. She was all smiles Thursday as the team posed for pictures following the news conference.
At one point, Hewitt ended up in the arms of Maltais.
“Val just picked me up,” said Hewitt, with a laugh. “It’s funny, though — it was one of the girls who picked me up, not one of the guys.
“But we’re a tight group, and we have fun.”