Rob Snoek | 2017 Canadian Disability Hall of Fame Inductee
If you're Canadian and a fan of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, you're probably familiar with Rob Snoek. He's been one of CBC Television's go-to broadcasters at both elite sporting competitions dating back to the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
Over the years, he's provided commentary on 18 different sports, from skiing and snowboarding to athletics and waterloo - which is no small feat considering the amount of research and preparation required to speak authoritatively on even a single sport. Next on his schedule: the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
You may also know Snoek from his radio career. Weekdays, he talks sports on Durham Radio in Oshawa, and he's the voice during Extra 90.5 fm's broadcasts of the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes.
But there's more to this Orono, Ontario native than smooth sports commentary.
Snoek, himself, is a former elite athlete, who competed for 12 years in para track-and-feild events. He represented Canada at the Paralympic Games in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney in 2000, as well as at four World Championships.
He's also a Canadian sports record holder.
Snoek's most successful outing was in 1998 at the World Championships in Birmingham, England. He picked up two medals, and his long jump of 5.99 metres was the best ever for a Canadian in his category. This Canadian record still stands to this day.
Snoek set three other Canadian records at the event - in the 100-metre race (11.99 seconds), the 200-metre (24.93 seconds) and the 400-metre (57 seconds) - but they were later surpassed.
Growing up, Snoek worked hard to get better in sports and competed at a high level in his community, but the fact that he had a disability created a seemingly unsurmountable barrier.
On his first birthday, he had lost his leg below the knee due to a congenital bone disease in his tibia. He never considered himself disabled in the midst of competitive play, but knew he was at a disadvantage and wondered how good he could have been.
Upon discovering the Paralympics in his late teens, Snoek realized there was an avenue for him to compete with the best on a level playing field to see how he measured up. In time, through dedication and training, he posted performances that elevated him to the very top ranks in his events.
"As an athlete, I was always about the concept of personal best, of trying to get better every day," said Snoek. That perspective served him well in sports, and he applies it to his career in broadcasting as well.
His involvement with CBC's Paralympics coverage is a good example. From one Paralympic Games to the next, he continually searches for new ways to improve the coverage. "I'm always thinking that we need to do a better job, we need to cover Paralympic sport better, we need to represent Paralympic athletes better. I'm passionate about doing better today than yesterday." he said.
"At the end of every Paralympics, it's like, Yeah, we did a lot of great work, but we still have a long way to go."
Snoek doesn't like to blow his own horn, but he recognizes that his para-sports career and high-profile work in broadcasting are helping bring increased awareness to disability sports. "What I've noticed, and it's very encouraging, is that para athletes, more and more, are becoming integrated into everyday life. It's not strange anymore to see someone with a disability playing a sport. It's become the norm. And I feel that if I've had any part in that, then it's been a worthwhile endeavour."
An accomplished public speaker, Snoek has delivered educational and inspirational messages to over a thousand audiences.
He received the James Vipond Award as Ontario's Best Paralympic Athlete in 1992 and was inducted to the Clarington Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. He is also a past recipient of the CFPDP's King Clancy Award.