In its inaugural year, Powell River’s Sports Hall of Fame will induct one team and eight athletes who have had a lasting legacy. In the weeks leading up to the gala, taking place June 15 at Hap Parker Arena, the Peak has been profiling the inductees, giving more insight into their accomplishments and contributions to the fabric of the community.
Born and raised in Powell River, Connie Polman Tuin’s earliest memories of running were on the rural roads south of town.
“I remember running home from my friends’ houses in the dark,” she said. “We lived at Kelly Creek so I was always super scared. That was probably my sprinting start.”
Showing talent in many sports, it was a visit to the track at age nine that set her on her future path.
“My brother had joined track and field and I was there one day and asked if I wanted to join,” she said. “I was very shy, so they said ‘run two laps.’ I started running and they said ‘slow down!’ I was just running scared.”
Two weeks later she attended her first track meet, and placed fourth in the province in her first race.
At age 10, Polman Tuin won two provincial gold medals and tied the provincial record in long jump, earning her the BC Athletic Award for top athlete in her category. At 12 she broke five provincial records.
Polman Tuin showed skill in numerous track and field categories and competed in them all.
“I was always doing tons of events,” she said. “When I went to a track meet I’d just be running from event to event.”
She particularly liked long jump, the 200 metre and hurdles but excelled at many more. In 1976 she represented BC at the Canadian League Nationals and won gold in shot put and at 15 she was selected to represent the province at the Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships.
From the start, Polman Tuin was coached by Scott Glaspey, a recognized national coach.
“He trained me all the way, the whole time right here in Powell River,” she said. “At about age 15, I said to Scott ‘maybe I’d like to train a little bit harder,’ so at 16, I started putting a little more work in and that’s when I started training full time for track.”
That year she won gold at the Canadian Junior National Championships in pentathlon. The five-event contest was changed to the seven-event heptathlon the following year.
“I didn’t start heptathlon until I was 17,” she said. “I didn’t really throw javelin until then.”
That year she won her first international medal, a bronze at the Pan American Junior Track and Field Championships.
In 1981 she set the interscholastic Canadian 100-metre hurdle record, which stood as a provincial high school record for the next 35 years, was named BC high school athlete of the year, won the Canadian Junior Championships in heptathlon and represented Canada at a multi-event international meet in England.
Momentum and excitement was building, but Polman Tuin said she was too immersed in competition and training to think about it.
“It just kind of happened,” she said. “When I was young I just won all the time and winning is nice so you keep going.”
In 1982, at age 19, Polman Tuin won the Canadian Junior championship in heptathlon and silver in 100 metre hurdles. At the Pan Am junior track and field championships in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, she was champion in heptathlon, silver medalist in 100 metre hurdles, set a meet record and was named outstanding athlete of the meet. She placed eighth at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, that year.
In 1984, Polman Tuin was selected to represent Canada at the Los Angeles Olympics. The road to the Olympics was not without its stresses. She had placed second in the nationals, the qualifying standard for representing Team Canada at the games, but the Canadian Olympic Committee decided she would have to perform well in another meet before being named to the Olympic team.
“It was not in the game plan,” she said. “You can only do so many heptathlons in a year before you peak and you’re not as sharp anymore. So I ended up between nationals and the Olympics squeezing another heptathlon in. I don’t think I had enough time to really recover and perform at my best when I went to the Olympics.”
She placed 16th in the two-day competition. Memories of competing at the highest level and representing Canada are still treasured.
“There are just so many good memories,” said Polman Tuin. “I think the biggest thing is all the friends I made.”
The following year Polman Tuin had already set her sights on the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She represented Canada at the biggest multi-event meet in Gotzis, Austria, was Pan American Games silver medallist in 1987 and competed at the World Track and Field Championships in Rome, Italy. A recurring stress fracture injury led her to re-evaluate her goals.
“Initially when I stopped it was in ’88. I had a big injury again and I decided, no, that’s enough. I’m done.”
Any athlete who has competed at the highest level will find an adjustment period when it’s over, she said.
“You miss it. You miss the competition, your friends and that kind of atmosphere,” she added. “When you’re competitive, you’re competitive; it’s hard to take it out of you.”
Polman Tuin and her husband Jim Palm have raised two daughters, now adults, and she is a dedicated mentor to young athletes.
“I coach with Scott Glaspey to this day,” she said. “We put a lot of time in at the track with the kids.”
Her enduring devotion to Glaspey keeps her so involved, she said.
“Scott had written somewhere that I had maybe missed two practices in six years. I always showed up because of the commitment he showed to me. I couldn’t miss track because I’d let Scott down. Even now coaching I’ve got to go because Scott is going to be there.”
Coaching successes include Calli-Ann Abbott, currently in her junior year at University of Hawaii and a rising track and field star.
“Connie was my coach from grade 10 to 12,” said Abbott. “She helped me a lot with confidence in a lot of my events. In long jump I was never consistently on the board and then the year I started working with her I was hitting the board every single time. So she’s definitely a miracle worker.”
Polman Tuin said work continues and there is more to achieve. Being recognized for her accomplishments so far means a lot, she added.
“I thank everybody who's always supported me,” she said. “It’s an honour to be inducted.”