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Prince George athlete wins top BC Winter Games award

Nechako Karate Club member chosen for W.R. Bennett Award for Athletic Excellence at Games in Lhatko Quesnel

Close to 1,700 athletes competed over the weekend at the 2024 BC Winter Games in Lhatko Quesnel  and the best of them from each of the 12 sports climbed the medal podium and were rewarded with hardware.

But just one of those athletes came home with the W.R. Bennett Award for Athletic Excellence and he has a Prince George address.

Karate athlete Cillian Hollybow was selected for the prestigious honour after he won silver medals in the individual U-14 plus-163 cm advanced division and team kumite (sparring) while competing for the Cariboo-North East Zone 8 team.

The Games experience was unique in that all the karate teams from each zone competed together and stayed together in the same school (Barlow Creek Elementary School in Quesnel). They ate meals together, slept in the classrooms and got to know each other.

“I was tired when I came back, sometimes it was difficult to sleep,” said Cillian.

The 13-year-old Nechako Karate Club member was nominated for the Bennett award by Karate BC.

Nominees are considered based of their past sport performances in events and their results at the Games, as well as their sport ambition/future potential and demonstrated leadership on and off the field of play.

Hollybow won the U-14 kumite (sparring) title last June at the Canadian championships in Laval, Que.

In August he represented Canada at the Junior PanAmerican Karate Championships in Santiago, Chile and at the Youth World Karate Federation Tournament in Merida, Mexico in September.

“For everything he’s involved in these days he’s still managing to train at a high level and between being very successful at the international scale he’s still managing to do other things,” said Warren Grafton, Hollybow’s coach with the Nechako Karate Club.

“Usually anybody at that level is having to be a very specialized athlete and that kind pf becomes their life, but he’s also pulling off music and school and doing all of it well.”

Hollybow started karate when he was seven at the urging of his mom Chyomi, who is of Japanese descent, and that was a way for him to connect to her culture. His 16-year-old sister Anika also competed at the national championships last year in the U-18 category when she was just 15.

“My mom forced me to,” laughed Cillian.

No coercion is needed now. He loves the sport and wants to continue competing at a high level in kumite and kata (patterns). He’s had just two years of elite-level kumite.

“It’s very fun,” he said. “I like fighting people and I meet a lot of people. I like kata more, but I do like fighting.”

The Bennett award includes a $2,500 bursary to study at a post-secondary school.

Hollybow gets top marks as a Grade 8 student at Duchess Park Secondary School and is part of the school band, playing trombone. He also plays cello and has joined the Prince George Youth Symphony Orchestra.

He speaks English, French and Japanese.

Cillian’s father Garrett, praised the efforts of Nechako club coaches Grafton and Jordan Foy for preparing him and Seiji Cronje for the Games tournament. Cronje, 13, won bronze in kumite, kata and shared in team silver for kumite.

“As a parent I recognize all the hard work he’s put into the sport and the support he’s had from the Nechako Karate Club, they’ve just been incredible in developing talent, and not just with Cillian but all the young athletes coming out of that club,” said Cillian’s father Garrett.