When Olympian Blayre Turnbull steps on the ice for Team Canada in Pyeongchang two of her biggest fans will be watching from their living room on Poplar Street in Stellarton.
It won’t matter a bit to grandparents Leona and Sam Turnbull if the games are at the break of day or in the middle of the night. They will be watching and they expect to shed a tear or two.
“It has always been her dream. It is what she has worked so hard for,” said Leona.
While the Olympics has long been on Blayre’s horizon, it is an almost unbelievable dream for a guy from Evansville and a girl from the Asphalt who married young 60 years ago.
Sam is a man of few words but he has the perfect word for his granddaughter’s success.
“Marvelous is what it is, just marvelous,” he said.
Blayre’s father Ron, his partner, a Turnbull aunt and a few cousins will be in Pyeongchang as will an aunt, an uncle and a couple of cousins from the Gillis side of Blayre’s family. Never much of a traveler, Sam is happy to watch on television but Leona knows it won’t be quite the same as being there. She got on her first plane just over a year ago to see Blayre play for Team Canada in Kamloops, BC.
“I couldn’t get over the excitement of being there, of being part of that crowd. I’d love to be in Pyeongchang but it is a long, long flight and I’m on a waiting list for a knee replacement. Blayre will have her dad and lots of family there and she knows the rest of us will be home cheering.”
Leona talked to Blayre the night before she left Calgary, where she plays for the Calgary Inferno, to join her teammates on flights to Pyeongchang.
“She’d been at a long workout, and then an on-ice practice followed by meetings and then had to clear out her locker. When she got home she had to go through all her packing to be sure she had everything. She was excited but she was tired, too. I wished I was close enough to get her supper.”
Blayre grew up only a few streets from her grandparents and they watched her take her first strides on Valley Woods pond and in local rinks. They were regular babysitters for her and her brother Brent and they will be looking after their dog during the Olympics.
When Blayre’s parents separated and when her mother was diagnosed with and later died from cancer, her grandparents did all they could to lessen the hurt.
“It was very good for the kids to have their sports during those hard years,” said Leona.
At the end of Grade 9 at Northumberland Regional High School, Blayre was offered scholarships to attend Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a Minnesota prep school, but her grandparents had mixed feelings.
“We were so happy for her, knowing how hard she worked and how well she was doing but we worried about her going so far away. Would she make friends? Was it too much too soon?”
Leona remembers Blayre phoned them on her first night away and each night for years after.
“She made great friends there and later at University of Wisconsin and after that in Calgary. We stopped worrying as much but we’ve always been in very close touch.”
With strict security measures in place at the Olympics they are no longer getting phone calls but they get messages through their son and grandson.
“We understand the athletes are kept really busy but she sends a message when she can. We don’t have a computer but we hear from her through Ron or Brent. She knows she has our love.”
Sam Turnbull was a pretty good ballplayer in his day and passed his love of sports down to his own four children who fostered it in their children.
“We’d take the kids to Sam’s games and pack a lunch on weekends - no McDonald’s in those days. I was happy they enjoyed ball but I had a lot to learn about hockey,” said Leona.
Sam played a little grammar school hockey but jokes he did not get quite to Blayre’s level. It is close to half a century ago that he made his first trip to the rink with a child.
“Ron was desperate to play hockey so he started young. Sam had to lie a little about his birth date to get him in but minor hockey was nothing like it is today so it wasn’t too serious,” said Leona.
Eventually the Turnbulls had three sons in hockey and a daughter in ringette.
“Towards the end of the week I’d be cooking and baking to get through the weekend because we’d just finish one game and be off to another.”
They followed the same routine with their grandchildren and as people are often inclined to point out they would be rich if they had a dollar for every game they attended.
“We don’t go to the dances or bingo. We don’t smoke or drink. We found our entertainment at the rink and ball field,” said Leona.
They admit to being a little anxious about political and security issues surrounding the Olympics.
“It will help if Trump and that fellow in North Korea can keep quiet,” said Sam.
Leona wishes the timing was different so Brent, in his fourth year at St. FX and playing hockey for the X-Men, could go.
“X has a good team and a chance at the championship so Brent is where he needs to be,” said Sam.
While other family members are in South Korea they will do their best to be at Brent’s games.
Leona also wishes Blayre’s mother could see how her children have grown.
“How proud she’d be of Blayre at the Olympics and Brent at St. FX,” she said.