What do Pelican ‘Hall of Fame,’ bike trails, free-flowing rivers, soccer surge and pickle ball have in common?

By Pamela Hovland Guest Contributor

At the beginning of the summer, my friend Brenda Haugrud called me an ‘athlete.’ 

Brenda and her husband Craig own Rehab Plus and Fitness and throughout the pandemic she has been my fitness trainer (via Zoom connecting downtown PR to my Connecticut living room). 

Brenda used the ‘athlete’ label matter of factly while introducing me to an exercise I should practice in order to improve agility, but it caught me off guard and I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.

There’s often an assumption that we must be young and become an expert in a particular sport or get some sort of official recognition in order to be considered an athlete, but this is just not true. It’s our own choice to see ourself as an athlete — no one else’s permission is required. 

“Athletes” come in many forms, many  activities—and all ages 

An athlete can be a Pelican elementary or middle school student competing in the recent three-on-three ‘Shada’ basketball tournament. It can be someone in middle-age learning to play golf for the first time on our plethora of local courses. It can be an octogenarian who regularly attends a Silver Sneakers workout.

 I’ve also been thinking about the future of this town we share and care deeply about. I’ve been pondering whether Pelican Rapids could become a town of self-proclaimed athletes – a town that fosters opportunities for movement, exercise and improved health.

Could a focus on wellness be yet another way PR distinguishes itself and, as a result, brings new interest and energy during this next phase of growth and change?

Like many people around the globe, I watched the Tokyo Olympics. I sampled everything from beach volleyball to eccentric equestrian events. Common threads among the disparate athletes were acquired skill, extreme discipline, composure under stress and the personal sacrifice required to compete on the international stage. It blew me away.

Who can forget the Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui who defied all odds and claimed the gold in the 400m freestyle — only the fifth gold medal for his country? 

What about track star Allyson Felix who has now won eleven Olympic medals, her most recent success after giving birth (and being written off by Nike). 

And of course, Minnesota’s own Sunisa Lee was certainly one of the phenoms of this olympics. 

I know almost nothing about gymnastics – my singular season on the PRHS gymnastics team in the 1970s was not my finest athletic moment – but it was enough to inform me that Lee’s indelible performance on the uneven bars was downright superhuman. Her personal story is also compelling and uplifting. She was (and is) good for Minnesota!

Pelican soccer documentary an inspiration 

Closer to home, I watched and rewatched Pelican Rapids’s own recently released soccer documentary titled ‘We Are From Pelican.’ With each viewing – there are six episodes – new layers of content are revealed. (If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend John Peters’ home-grown storytelling for a multitude of compelling reasons.) 

The documentary introduces us to just a few of Pelican Rapids’ motivated high school athletes and I hope a larger audience gets to hear their story. 

In my own family, I watched my college triathlete nephew who has lived next door to us for the summer, train for a 242-mile bike race across Minnesota. The DAMN (Day Across Minnesota race) took place last summer; my nephew rode 16-plus hours and finished 21st out of over 500 riders. For weeks I’ve seen him come and  go from day-long training rides traversing the back roads of Otter Tail County. When he wasn’t training, he was researching and making improvements to his gear. My nephew’s self-initiated discipline was on display just a few feet from my perch on the front porch.

Pelican pickle ball gains popularity; broadening definition of  Pelican “athlete”

Meanwhile, courtesy of Pelican Rapids, I’ve fallen in love with a new sport this summer. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a group of full and part-time area residents congregate at the town’s tennis courts to play the fast growing sport of pickle ball. I was  new to both the group and the game (thanks to an invitation from Brenda, a fierce pickle ball player). The regulars range from twenty-something to seventy-something. One of the passionate players is soon to get a hip replaced but shows up and plays hard. Another just fought and beat cancer and yet another is battling Lyme Disease. On any given evening, around 18 players show up, even in this summer’s oppressive heat. Everyone plays to win, all the while cheering each other on, coaching the new players and enjoying the social aspect of the game. We leave sweaty and maybe a bit sore but full of the healthy endorphins that exercise offers.

It is always bittersweet to say goodbye to the lake. But I departed late summer with excitement and anticipation for the pending improvements underway in Pelican Rapids, many of which foster a better quality of life for our community. 

Pelican improvements, from swim pool to Maplewood trail, have health, fitness—and economic payoffs

Much of the proposed change will help distinguish our town further and likely bring important economic payoffs as well. 

The new bike trail, for example, soon to connect downtown PR to Maplewood State Park and then on to Perham, will be a great asset to both casual and serious walkers, runners and bicy- clists. 

The reimagined swimming pool will be yet another fantastic offering. During a college summer break in the early 1980s, I was a lifeguard at the current pool and watched many, many children learn how to swim – a critical life skill growing up in the ‘land of ten thousand lakes.’ 

Kayaking and canoeing on the river will be enhanced once the natural rapids return (and I hope Pelican Pete will get a much needed facelift in his new environs).

 In a few years, the proposed downtown streetscape will be reconfigured to enhance pedestrian and bike access throughout the town, connecting more areas of the community more efficiently, safely and equitably than before. 

Perhaps the new  farmer’s market (I’m a fan!) and the community gardens will need to grow too, as our community continues to embrace the locally grown food movement. After all, athletes need healthy fuel.

I turned sixty earlier this year (which is still a shock to say out loud or even type) so unfortunately the Olympics are not a realistic possibility for me and I’ve long ago aged out of high school and college sports. 

But like olympian Suni Lee and the PR soccer team, I’m an athlete too. 

I like the way that sounds. I like the way it feels. It is terrific to watch Pelican Rapids become an even better community, one that supports our various athletic pursuits in order to become a healthier and happier place to live, work, raise families or just spend the summers.

Onward. See you next June.