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Small southern Alberta town goes all out to support its first-ever homegrown Olympian

Storefronts have been plastered, viewing parties have been organized and the entire town of Vulcan, Alta., is all-in on its first-ever homegrown Olympian.

Keyara Wardley is the lone Albertan on the Rugby Sevens squad that will represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. At 21 years old, she’s also the youngest player on the roster of 12.

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“(In) a town of 2,000 people, it’s kind of cool because everybody knows everybody, and they’re just so excited for Keyara,” said Wardley’s mother Lisa Wylie.

A shop in Vulcan, Alta. shows support for local athlete Keyara Wardley.

A shop in Vulcan, Alta. shows support for local athlete Keyara Wardley.

Danica Ferris / Global News

Wylie handed out T-shirts as part of a fundraiser for her daughter in Vulcan on Tuesday. A second fundraiser was organized by family friend Jeannine Tucker, whose daughter played against Wardley growing up.

“I know that the girls don’t do well in terms of getting paid and all of those things, and they used to have to — up until two years ago — pay their own way,” Tucker said.

“So to me, it was like, ‘OK, this is my opportunity, I can step up to the plate.’”

Tucker sold 118 cases of steak in just six days in support of Wardley. She said it has been incredible to see the community band together.

“My daughter, who’s away in Nova Scotia, had seen the pictures (of the town),” she said. “And she said it’s so amazing to see how a small community like Vulcan would come together for a girl that half of them probably don’t necessarily even know very well. But that’s what we do in a small town.”

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Its an achievement that hasn’t been lost on anyone in Vulcan, or on Wylie, who said it seems unbelievable when she thinks back to dropping her daughter off in Victoria to train with the national team four years ago.

“From the minute we got out of the car and watched the girls on the field, Keyara was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, Mom, that’s Kayla Moleschi, Ghislaine Landry, Britt Benn, Charity Williams…,’” she said.

“It was just a huge awe moment for her to think that they actually thought she could be there, and she is.”

Family members and all spectators have been banned from attending events at the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19. But Wardley, who has been training in Whistler, B.C., and will head to Tokyo on Wednesday, said she’s already been feeling the support from afar.

“My mom sends me photos every day — all the new posters going up, all the pictures and signs in windows,” she said. “Just having that support is very grounding.”

Wardley said she couldn’t be more grateful for all the people that have been cheering her on while she’s been accomplishing what’s been a lifelong goal.

“I would always bug my mom and bug my brother about wanting to be an Olympian and going to the Olympics,” she laughed.

“For it to actually be happening is so surreal, and I’m so excited and so honoured to be able to make my dream a reality.”

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The Canadian women will kick off pool play against Brazil on Thursday, July 29 (viewing parties on Canadian soil will be on Wednesday evening) and Wardley said the team is laser-focused on a common goal.

“Heads down, we’re hungry for that gold medal,” she said.

“The girls going to Rio in 2016 and coming back with the bronze, that was obviously such a good experience for them, but I think this year we’re on the hunt for that gold medal.”

Canada’s pool for round-robin play includes Brazil, Fiji and France.

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