Bowes hopes to encourage kids to try sports through “Lucy Tries Sports” series

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TORONTO — Lisa Bowes imagined her storybook character “Lucy” as a compilation of many young girls.

The freckled redhead who lived in Bowes’ imagination was a bit Pippi Longstocking. She was a bit of Bowes’ own daughter Rachel. Bowes, a veteran sportscaster, said she also drew from all the elite athletes she’d met over her career, imagining “Lucy” with the courage and resilience of Canada’s top athletes.

And there was a lot of Bowes herself in the spunky character.

“I was a true tomboy, I grew up playing with boys, sports has always been a part of my life,” Bowes said.

“Lucy” finally came to life when Bowes met illustrator James Hearne. The two have since collaborated on four books in the “Lucy Tries Sports” children’s book series, most recently “Lucy Tries Hockey,” which was published earlier this year.

“When James first drew her, I truly cried because she was in my head I think at that point for five years, and then when he drew her, I realized ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to keep going. She’s alive. She’s now an entity,'” Bowes said.

The Guelph, Ont., native who played soccer at the University of Western Ontario, has been a sports broadcaster for 26 years, working for TSN, The Score and CBC.

But it was when Rachel was just two (Bowes’ daughter is now 12), and Bowes was scouring the children’s sections of bookstores in vain for a kids’ sports book, that she discovered a big void.

“I’m a huge reader, I belong to a book club, and I was looking for books for her like any parent, and I realized I really couldn’t see anything in the picture book genre that connected kids to sport, and specifically the different types of sport,” said Bowes, who lives in Calgary. “There were a lot of the mainstream.

“And I was in this Olympic mode because I was getting ready to cover women’s hockey in Vancouver (she was CTV’s host/reporters for women’s at the 2010 Winter Olympics). It was like a ‘eureka!’ moment. ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got an opportunity to create maybe a collection of books that can engage and educate families on different types of sport.’ And that’s how it all began.”

“Lucy Tries Luge” was the first in the series. Then came “Lucy Tries Short Track” and “Lucy Tries Soccer.”

She’s currently writing “Lucy Tries Basketball,” scheduled for release in the fall of 2019.

Bowes can recite the alarming figures on children and physical activity, particularly for girls.

She said 14 per cent of Canadian children aged five to 11 are reaching their recommended level of daily physical activity. By the age of two-and-a-half, girls are already less active than boys of the same age.

The key components of the books, Bowes said, are things like mastering skills, making friends, and having positive relationships with coaches — all the ingredients that go into healthy participation in sports.

“Lucy represents every child, every little one out there whose eyes open wide when they see a sport, or when a ball comes at them, the physical literacy of even just catching a ball,” Bowes said. “She really is that child who’s trying and seeing and understanding and really loving sport, and being active and moving.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, Danielle Goyette, Dave King, Martin Gelinas and Mark Giordano are among the Canadian hockey celebrity endorsers of “Lucy Tries Hockey.”

“Hockey is a game for everyone,” Wickenheiser, a six-time Olympian, wrote in an inscription on the back cover. “If you love the game you will love this book. Lucy and her friends show us that kids can do anything they put their minds to!”

Bowes also joined Ron MacLean in Aurora, Ont., for Rogers Hometown Hockey to chat “Lucy Tries Sports” recently.

Bowes is proud her books are being used as reference material for teachers, principals and parents. She spoke about a recent school visit she did after which every class wrote and illustrated its own Lucy book, including a “Lucy Tries Curling.”

“The thing about it is when you see the work that you’re creating, that it makes a difference, that really makes you feel good,” Bowes said. “I feel very passionate about it, and I’m a physical education major, actually, so I’m coming full circle on my degree. I always had an interest in activity and healthy lifestyles, and so to now attack it from a different angle, but still use the core piece of what we do as broadcasters which is writing, is kind of neat.”

“Lucky Tries Hockey” is published by Orca Book Publishers and costs $12.95.

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Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press