In sports, we frequently hear and read about successful father-and-son stories. Athletic skills handed down from one generation to the next. Same is true — though maybe not quite as common — of mothers passing on their talents to their daughters.
Blood lines are often the explanation.
But what about husbands and wives who become champions in completely different sports endeavours? Not as prevalent, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Nonetheless, there’s such a story right here in this province — in the Halifax-Dartmouth area. So good were they, that their careers gave them entrance into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame.
I was fortunate to get to know them when they were competing in their separate sports, both climbing to the top while still teenagers.
Interestingly, each was lured into a specific sport because of the proximity of their family homes to athletic venues.
At the start, there was the girl who grew up in a house that overlooked the waters where the Cheema Aquatic Club was established in Fall River when she was 11 years old; and there was the boy who spent his childhood in a house so close to the Halifax Commons that he could reach the ball diamonds in less than a minute.
Skipping ahead a few years, the girl became a world-class paddler while still in her teenage years, while the boy started living his dream of being one of the best fastball pitchers anywhere in the world.
If you pay attention to our athletic stars in Nova Scotia, I’m sure you are aware of both Ann Dodge and Mark Smith.
I’ll speak of Ann first, if only because she’s 14 months older than Mark.
In my own career, I’ve travelled to many major events, including significant competitions outside the province. That’s how I met Ann.
For instance, I covered the 1973 Canada Summer Games in Burnaby, B.C. My assignment there was to report on the athletes representing our province. None authored a bigger story than Ann Dodge.
Two years prior to that, she had already advanced enough to be a member of the Cheema ladies war canoe that participated in the Canadian championships.
Ann was 15 when she got to Burnaby.
There she swept the scoreboard, winning gold medals in the ladies K-1, K-2 and K-4 events. She truly impressed me during those 10 days — by her abilities on the water, and even more so in our one-on-one conversations. Watching her collect her paddling hat-trick made me feel proud to be a Nova Scotian.
Our paths would cross again at an even bigger venue, the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. This time, still just 18, she was representing Canada and carried out her mandate like a champion. Being there at the Olympic course and seeing her represent our country made me proud to be a Canadian.
For her, international events became almost routine, attending several world championships while wearing our country’s colours.
Among highlights of her career, she was named Nova Scotia athlete of the year, as well as Nova Scotia ladies athlete of the year.
Following paddling, she obtained a physical education degree from Acadia University and a Masters degree from the University of New Brunswick. Later she managed a fitness centre in Kentville and, more significantly, she became very popular while serving her alma mater as faculty advisor for the Acadia Kinesiology Society. She’s remains a familiar face on campus.
Then there was Mark.
Having the Halifax Commons so close, he was quickly getting interested in ball before he started school. He often talks about how close it was, and it’s not hard to envision him holding a bat almost as big as himself.
Like Ann in paddling, Mark advanced rapidly in softball and fastball. As a teenager, he played junior ball in Ontario and, before many summers went by, he was showing the potential to be a world-class pitcher.
Among early successes, he won gold medals three times at the Pan-American Games. He pitched teams to consecutive International Softball Congress championships, and he won gold at the International Softball Federation world championships. Altogether he pitched in nine ISC worlds.
And he was a winner closer to home, too, like in 1988 when he helped the Halifax Jaquars win the Canadian senior crown when that event was held in St. Croix. That was the first time I watched him in a major competition and he sure convinced me how good he was.
Mark, whose younger brother Wade was a basketball star at St. Francis Xavier University, retired from competitive fastball in 1998 at the age of 39, and has been an important contributor to Nova Scotia sports.
He has been head coach of Canada’s national junior and senior teams for years and has a great reputation in those roles. He has served as director of development at Sport Nova Scotia. While I was serving on the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame selection committee, Mark joined the committee and became chairman.
Mark was inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame and the American Softball Hall of Fame.
Then there’s the Nova Scotia hall, of course.
Ann gained a pew in the provincial hall first, being inducted in 1994 while Mark joined her eight years later.
In an article in the induction night program in 2002, Mark pointed out his honour had already been enjoyed by Ann.
“Now,” he suggested, “I can sit at the table with her.”
I’m sure Ann — who’s a Facebook friend of mine — never objects to Mark’s achievements. I can say for a fact that she was a very proud spouse in recent months when Mark was named one of the top 15 all-time Nova Scotia athletes.
In many ways, Ann and Mark have proven to be remarkable athletes, remarkable personalities, remarkable persons. And, topping it all, a remarkable couple.
In sports, in life, nobody can do better than that.