Lisa Bowes has been brought to tears a few times when visiting classrooms across the country.
Don’t worry, however, they are tears of joy as she sees first-hand how her Lucy Tries Sports book series re-ignites a passion for physical activity among kids.
With the NBA champion Toronto Raptors set to defend their title next month, Lucy is taking to the hardwood in Lucy Tries Basketball, the fifth in Bowes’ series that includes luge, short track, hockey and soccer. This latest installment sees the precocious youngster learn all about 3-on-3 basketball, which will be showcased for the first time at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“Lucy is a little dash of – and I hate to date myself – Pippy Longstocking, a dash of my daughter, but mostly a compilation of all the elite athletes I’ve interviewed in my career,” Bowes, BA’88 (Physical Education), explained. “She really is that global youth champion for physical activity.”
Bowes was a reporter/commentator for TSN and the Score throughout the 1990s. Around the time of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she was preparing to cover women’s hockey for CTV, when an ‘eureka moment’ struck. She wanted to create a series of books for kids.
When James Hearne – “my brilliant illustrator” – drew Lucy for the first time, she “realized we had an incredible opportunity to have a lead character who was a female.”
Even though it took seven years and 14 rejection letters before Lucy hit bookshelves, “I didn’t quit. I wanted to do that work and tell stories. Resiliency is part of my makeup and if people say ‘no’ to me, I keep going until I get that ‘yes.’”
Lucy is about inspiring kids to try, be active and live healthier lives – she is not always about winning. In fact, in a previous book, Lucy Tries Short Track, she finishes second.
“She doesn’t win the race. This allows me an opportunity to talk about sportsmanship. She’s happy for her friend who wins. I’m able to share with the kids, the ones who want to win all the time, that you can win by trying,” she said.
“There’s a reason it’s not called ‘loves’ but ‘tries.’ We need kids to try. Even Lucy has challenges, she overcomes them. Lucy is all about encouraging kids to get out there and try a sport. I like her resiliency factor.”
In her latest book, Bowes finds Lucy on the playground when she spots a friend playing basketball with her cousin Jermaine, a professional player. Jermaine gives the kids lessons on the fundamentals of the game and how to play 3-on-3. In the book, Bowes also introduces Brett, who is in a wheelchair, to emphasize basketball as an inclusive sport.
Bowes is passionate about encouraging children to be more active since only 14 per cent of Canadian kids ages 5-11 reach their recommended activity levels.
“It breaks my heart when I don’t see the little ones off to an active start. We know – the research is in – that if a child gets active start they will continue to have an active life,” said Bowes, who played varsity soccer during her time at Western. “If they don’t get those fundamental skills – running, jumping and playing – then it’s less likely they’ll even try sports and get the benefits. Is not just the physical benefits but the social benefits and mental benefits. It’s an outlet they need.
“It’s not about strategy and score; it’s about skill development and fun. They learn in an encouraging environment. It’s free play.”
While she wrote the story two years ago, there are a couple nods to the Raptors in the book, with a ‘Kawhi Leonard-type’ buzzer-beater and one of the characters presented as a compilation of former Raptor Vince Carter and TSN Calgary’s Jermain Franklin.
“I want to inspire as many kids as I can. While I’m the voice for Lucy, she is actually starting to gain her own voice,” said Bowes, adding her fictional character is even on social media, @LucyTriesSports. “When you truly believe in something, and you can see that you can make a difference, you can’t quit. As the little ones learn to read, she is who they relate to. She is their champion”