Olympic medallist Jessica Hewitt felt a deep void in 2014 when her speed skating career ended.
The chasm reached its basin in 2016 with the death of her father, Gary.
“When you’re speed skating, you kind of have blinders on and you’re not really in the real world, if that makes sense,” said 34-year-old Hewitt, the Kamloopsian who won silver in the women’s 3,000-metre relay at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It has taken a lot of time to adjust and figure out my place in the world. That loss of skating identity and the loss of my dad was also a loss of identity, in some way. Usually, sports are good for dealing with loss or things that happen in life.”
Hewitt seems to have again found her place in the world.
She married Pasan Chandraweera in 2016 and poured herself into studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She has since completed her masters in geography and gave birth to daughter Oriah 15 months ago.
“She’s starting to run around now, so I’m constantly chasing her,” Hewitt said. “It’s really fun.
“It takes a while to get your life back, your life vision on track.”
The latest turn is one made possible by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has altered the way businesses and organizations operate.
Montreal resident Hewitt is president of the Kamloops Long Blades, the speed skating club that spurred the Olympian’s rise to the podium in Russia.
“Parents are usually on the executive and that comes with challenges,” said Hewitt, who conducts her presidency duties virtually. “There can be a good side to that, but also a bad side. They obviously have conflicts. Everyone thinks their kid is the most important thing and, I mean, it’s understandable as a parent, but it’s nice to have someone that’s outside of that who can have a strong vision for the whole community.”
In a few weeks, Hewitt will begin part-time cultural heritage repatriation work for the Kwantlen First Nation, which has territory that extends from Richmond and New Westminster in the west, to Surrey and Langley in the south, east to Mission and to the northernmost reaches of Stave Lake.
The Long Blades’ presidency will give her useful leadership experience, said Hewitt, whose mother, Shelley, is a Kamloops resident.
Long Blades’ founder and coach Sandi Vyse remains with the club, which became the only speed skating operation in town when the River City Racers folded in 2019.
“She’s pretty much the heart and soul of the club,” Hewitt said of Vyse, her longtime friend, mentor and coach.
Hewitt’s most pressing task is to seek funding for the cash-strapped organization, which has seen a 50 per cent drop in membership, with about 30 skaters remaining.
“We’re at risk of losing our ability to pay for the ice times,” Hewitt said. “If we have bad ice times or don’t have enough ice, that will also put us at risk of not being able to deliver programs. It’s a negative cycle.”
Hewitt is asking for donations on a GoFundMe page — under “Covid-19 Kamloops Long Blades Recovery Fund” online at gofundme.com.
“We need to raise about 10 grand to make it affordable and also not to cancel ice times,” Hewitt said. “We’ve always prided ourself on being an affordable sport. That’s a big reason why my parents signed me up.”