Steve Hubrecht takes the gold for excellence in sports writing

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Behind every great story told in print is its writer, the one who listens to their subjects and takes in all the details and shares it in a captivating manner though a unique style and voice all their own. For nearly a decade, one of those voices for the Columbia Valley Pioneer has been Steve Hubrecht, who is as humble as he is talented. This past spring, Hubrecht won the Ma Murray Award for best in sports writing among community newspapers with a circulation of less than 10,000. He won for his piece Comeback Kelly Rides Again about mountain biker Kelly Kokolski, who broke his neck in a horrendous crash and, against all odds, made it back to the road to a full recovery. Hubrecht finally received his trophy though the mail last month.

“It’s nice to be recognized. It’s really cool. But the reason you write stories in the first place is not to earn an award,” Hubrecht said. “You write because you feel the issue or the topic that you are writing about really deserves the attention. The real reward is doing a good job and then seeing that reflected in the subject and the community. If the community and the subjects you write about give you good feedback and are happy with how you shared their story or told their tale, that for me is the main motivation. While the award is recognition from my peers and community newspaper media that they. too. feel I have done a good job, really for me the primary motivation is to do a good job for who that story us about.”

Hubrecht has been writing and sharing important stories for the past 15 years, but in 2013, he joined the Columbia Valley Pioneer, located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa peoples and the land chosen as home by the Métis peoples.

“I always liked writing. Teachers and other adult mentors always suggested writing as an avenue for me to pursue professionally,” Hubrecht said, noting he received his master’s in journalism from Western University in London, Ont., in 2006. Since earning his masters, Hubrecht has certainly become that at his craft and has been nominated many times in the past for his writing with the Fernie Free Press and the Pioneer. Hubrecht has been awarded a silver Ma Murray in the past.

The Ma Murrays are the British Columbia and Yukon Community News Media Awards. They break down into several categories, including photo, editorial, feature writing, environmental writing, arts, and culture writing and sports writing. Hubrecht’s winning piece stems from injuries Kokolski suffered in a 2001 mountain bike crash after being catapulted off his bike and launched head-first into a tree, breaking his neck. Hubrecht and Kokolski are family friends. Wanting to do his story justice, Hubrecht re-created Kokolski’s experience for his readers through three extensive interviews in which he wrote a multi-page story on the accident and Kokolski’s road to recovery.

“He is very lucky to be alive, let alone that he is not paralyzed,” Hubrecht said. “Writing this piece was very involved and it was a long process. I know Kelly outside of the story. Our families know each other. It’s an emotional story. He had a brush with death, a brush with paralysis, then had a near-miraculous recovery from it. Telling me the story was quite emotional. Then the challenge to construct it into a story dug up a lot of emotions for me, as well. Because it was longer and because the incident was so impactful, I decided to do essentially a reconstruction of how the accident had initially happened. It’s kind of hard to do that because I’m describing something that I wasn’t physically there for.”

Hubrecht took a virtual ride down the trail on which Kokolski crashed, using apps like Google Earth to tell Kokolski’s story though his own personal experience. Surpassing all his doctor’s expectations for a recovery later that fall, Kokolski was able to do a 50-kilometre run in the Kootenay Trail Park on the famous Rockwall Trail, something he had done for years. His main goal and focus since his accident was to continue that tradition.

“He did it and it’s mind-blowing,” Hubrecht said. “Getting the award or the gold is a reflection not so much of me as a reporter, but more so the subject material that you have. I happened to be the one to tell Kelly’s story, but if what happened to Kelly had not been quite as dramatic as it was, then I don’t feel I would have been awarded the gold. The story is not so much my writing as it is Kelly’s recovery, his determination to heal from a broken neck and to do it way ahead of schedule and way ahead of any of his doctor’s expectations. That was his determination and that is what I think makes the story what it is not me.”