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Sport and the Military: A perfect mix for Alanna Larocque

For folks with a penchant towards badminton lore in Sudbury and area, the names of Lucio Fabris, Ev Staples and Ed Hreljac are well-entrenched in their minds.

Alanna Larocque - not so much.

Yet a partnership of the naturally athletic young woman from Garson and club coach Rene Paquette would yield some extremely impressive results in the 1970s and 1980s, a sporting success story that would follow Larocque into a lengthy career in the military.

It's a pretty safe bet that the armed forces were the further thing from her mind when the precocious pre-teen first ventured off to the Inco Club, in her own hometown, joined by her older brother Terry, the siblings part of a group of 20-25 youngsters who would first pick up a racquet on Sunday nights in a facility that offered a bit of everything.

"Back in those days, it was all very exclusive - but I remember it was quite fun," said Larocque, now 59 years young and living just outside of Ottawa. "I was about nine when I first went for badminton, and Terry kept me competitive. We used to bowl at the club on Saturdays. I did everything - and my body is telling me that now."

Gradually honing her skills, Larocque would truly hit her stride at high school age, the Garson-Falconbridge Secondary School phenom sweeping the SDSSAA women's singles title for four consecutive years (1976 to 1979), all while helping to put the Rene Paquette led club team on the map on a provincial scale.

And it wasn't as though she limited herself to just badminton.

"In high-school, I was on the basketball team, I was on the volleyball team, I played badminton five nights a week - I was never home, always playing sports," she said. "We did it all, but I think everyone did, if you were an athlete at that time. I loved them all, but I loved badminton the most."

In 1977, Larocque would capture the junior ladies provincial title, as well as combining with teammate and Creighton Club stalwart Anne Cormier to win women's doubles at the all-Ontario tournament (they settled for silver at nationals).

"I don't know if there was a turning point or not, for me," she said. "We would play two to three tournaments down south, would play all across the north. It took probably three to four years, but then I started doing really well. I knew that I loved playing badminton, that I wanted to learn and get better. It was such a great thing, as a kid, to be travelling that much. My parents sacrificed a lot for us just to get there - but it was exciting for me."

Where some badminton stars in Sudbury would shine solely in one discipline, Larocque, much like Lucio Fabris, would enjoy multi-faceted success. Standing 5'10" but blessed with the grace to move comfortably around the court (as well as on the ball diamonds, where she starred as a top-notch first baseman in the local women's fastball league), Larocque refused to be pegged into just one hole.

"For the singles game, you had better be in good shape, and have all of your skills in place to play a good match," she said. "Because I am tall, I was able to cover all four corners of the court pretty easily. Doubles was a totally different strategy. Anne and I worked for years on our doubles game and it took us until almost the end of our careers to perfect it."

Moving on to complete two years of Law & Security Administration at Cambrian College, Larocque would represent the Golden Shield both in badminton (national silver medal winner) and volleyball, recognized with the Cambrian Shield Award of Distinction in 1981. Eschewing a career in policing, the second of four children in the family would turn to the armed forces, a choice that she has never regretted.

Not only did her time in the military, some twenty years as a Communication Researcher, allow her to maintain a very active involvement in sport, it would also complement her love of travel (more on that later), as well as transitioning directly into a government related career in communications security for the past decade and a half.

"There are a lot of similarities between the military and sports, especially with things like teamwork," Larocque stated. "Things were easy for me when it came to military sports, since I had that background already." In her very first year of service, she was part of the fastball team that claimed the national title in the armed forces.

"They have Canadian championships in the military for pretty much every single sport," she said. "It's a really important part of morale and welfare for those serving members. The military supports an active lifestyle, with gym time allotted for working out every day. You obviously want your soldiers and airmen and sailors in the best physical shape that they can be."

This was a vocation that spoke to Larocque's yearning to see the world, blessed with a free spirit that so appreciated even her earliest days of badminton. "The fact that you get to meet so many interesting people, and all that travelling that came with it, to see all of those things when you're that young, that was a highlight for me."

"That was amazing, the things I got to do."

The same could be said of chapter two of her life. Early on in her career, Larocque would be posted to CFS Bermuda, and just four years ago, she and partner Gail Roberts would return to Canada following a four-year stint in Hawaii.

"I've been fortunate, I'm not going to lie," she said. "Most military people won't have the opportunities I've had." It was in Bermuda where she would take up golf.

Not that you should need any further testament to the notion that there were likely few sports that Larocque could not conquer, but consider that the Sudbury native would whittle her way down to an eight or nine handicap, winning the military golf crown on a handful of occasions, and representing Canada at International Military Sports Council events, battling it out on the fairways with golfers from the USA and South Africa.

"Golf, that's now my go to sport," she said. "I think that happens to a lot of athletes. We play the sport that doesn't hurt as much."

Just a few years from retirement, Larocque hinted that a return to northern Ontario could well be in store for the couple, with the majority of her family still in the nickel city. And if that should happen, she will now enjoy just a touch more name recognition in the region - most deservedly so.

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