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Rob Snoek: A Profile by Ed Arnold

Rob Snoek stands in a wooden box about

Rob Snoek stands in a wooden box about 20 feet by 16 above the fans on the west side of the Memorial Centre. His voice rises and falls as the Peterborough Petes play on the ice below him. He has a chair, but never sits when he is doing the play by play, shifting from shoe to shoe, inserting facts and statistics on individuals while his color commentator Graham Elliott gives him a break for gulps of water.

Every Petes’ game, home or away, Snoek is the voice of the Petes. In a booth two doors down Pete Dalliday who has been broadcasting Petes games for 18 years, used to do the radio broadcasts but now only does TV home games for COGECO.

Snoek (pronounced Snuke) is only inches away from the fans below him, so close he can touch their heads, and knows many of them in that back row, even telling his audience that Judge Alan Ingram, a regular, is two minutes, 48 seconds late for the start of the game.

Snoek, in suit and tie for every game, removes his jacket before the action begins, studies his inches of research notes for tonight’s game that he holds or tapes to the wall beside him or on the desk below him. On Petes game days he spends more time behind a microphone than he sleeps.

The 44-year old is also a morning man at an Oshawa radio station and does sports assignments for CBC. He is going to the Olympics in Russia next month to broadcast snowboarding events. It will be his eleventh Olympics, and not all of them for broadcasting. He was an athlete in six of them.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Snoek was an athlete when he was a child playing for his hometown Orono, Ontario hockey teams getting various MVP recognitions and while in high school starring for the high school volleyball team. He was its captain and competed in track events as well.

That’s not bad, rather remarkable when you learn he had a defect at birth that that forced doctors to amputate his left leg from just below the knee.

This obstacle, and poor prosthetics more than 40 years ago, wasn’t about to stop the youngster. Like many Canadian boys he craved to play hockey and baseball just like his buddies. So he did.

And while he loved to play and compete he also remembers being in his bedroom with his hockey cards doing play by play, listening to the radio and wondering how he could someday be the voice in that box or on TV just like Foster Hewitt.

He wanted it so bad he went to college studying TV broadcasting, got a part time job doing anything for a Toronto radio station but mainly research, while yearning to be on the air.

He was developing two dreams in those days; pursuing his athletic dreams, training vigorously for track and field events. He finally went out and got his own sponsors and took the leap attempting to become an Olympic athlete in Paralympics Games. He was good.

Snoek was with the Canadian team in three Paralympics games, was Ontario’s best athlete with a disability in 1993, and later received the King Clancy award for his contributions to people with disabilities.

In 1998 he won a silver medal in the world games and competed for a decade. But he didn’t just compete he was on the board of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons.

As you watch him doing the FM 90.5 Petes play by play there is no sign of any of this, few people even know about his athletic abilities let alone his disability. It’s his third year doing the Petes’ games doing the Oshawa Generals games before this, but still pursuing his dream, like the players he talks about, of one day doing play by play in NHL games.

Snoek’s voice rises every time the Petes have the puck in the offensive zone. He tries his best to be objective while giving the play by play on radio station 90.5 FM, the Orono born, Hampton village resident, but knows his voices goes up when the Petes have a scoring chance.

“I can’t be a Petes’ fan, but I want them to go as far as they can. “I never say WE when it comes to the Petes. The listeners don’t want me to be a fan; they want me to present them with the facts. Obviously I want them to win,” he says before one broadcast.

Snoek knows he can’t be part of the team. He must retain impartiality, but he can’t help be part of the Petes’ family. Everyone involved in any way with this team seems to be seen as part of the family. Some are treated like sons, others like aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins and distant relatives. Rob would be a distant cousin, on the outside looking in but welcomed anytime.
And like so many other members of the Petes’ family his story is unique and wonderful.

He remembers vividly playing with those hockey cards, lining them up in piles according to their positions, and pretending he was a broadcaster.
“I think that was a premonition. I realized my dream of playing in the NHL wasn’t going to happen, even though I made it to the midget rep team, but I had another dream.”
He went to Seneca College to study TV broadcasting and it was while here he found another love (besides his wife Pam and later his three children).
“It was the time of the Paralympics movement and gave me another sports avenue.”

He did some radio broadcasting at CHUM in the news department but it was mainly not on air stuff. He was getting up at 4 a.m. to get to work and train for the Paralympics.

“I couldn’t recover my energies with that routine.” He left CHUM and devoted the next four to five years training to be a world-class athlete.

The technology for prosthetics had made major inroads, but in his first race he did poorly. He trained harder and continued chasing his dream.

He chased it in Atlanta, Germany, Barcelona and 2000 in Sydney, Australia. In all of them he competed in 100, 200 and 400 metre races and the running long jump. He even set Canadian records. During all this time he had to seek sponsors; ironically some of his major sponsors for world events were American. He was a one-man machine in his pursuit.

The world championships in 2001 were his last in Edmonton where it was an integrated meet and he did well. He still holds two Canadian records.
He still yearned for broadcasting and after the worlds he wanted to get back into it. He got a job at an Oshawa radio station in the news department.
“I really wanted to be a hockey broadcaster, it was my dream to do play by play.”
He worked in the newsroom and enjoyed it, knowing he would probably never replace the station’s play-by-play man, Dave Gilbert, who covered the Oshawa Generals. He even told an employee about his dream.

“I didn’t think Dave would ever leave but almost the next day he did and this employee told the boss there that I could do it.”

Without a minute of experience he replaced the voice of the Generals following the team in 2003 when now Belleville coach George Burnett was at the Generals’ helm.

“I know my voice was going a mile a minute and I have since slowed it down a bit.”
He was with the Generals for seven years while also covering Pan American games for CBC as well as winter and summer games. When CBC learned he had competed in track and field they had him doing play by play.

The Oshawa station quit doing Generals games three years ago so Rob sent applications “all over the place. I really wanted to get back on air.”
He knew Mike Oke, who had been with the Generals and when the Petes lost its radio station for another one Oke, then Petes’ player personnel director now its general manager, called Snoek “while I was walking on the beach in P.E.I on vacation with my wife.”

He joined McNabb radio station 90.5 FM, first known as a Christian station, for the broadcasts three years ago. That station is now a sports and news talk station.
He still works for his Oshawa radio station where he is Durham Radio sports director and does CBC gigs most notably Alpine Skiing.
He does plenty of homework for the Petes games, spending a few hours each day researching and finding interesting and notable facts to insert into his play by play. He has a busy professional and family life. He is on two national disability boards hoping to play a role in developing better education and opportunities. His daughter Victoria is in university in B.C.. He has two younger sons at home both very proficient in hockey and lacrosse. Family is a big part of his life.

“I love doing the Petes, they are much more a family than the Generals were. The heart of Peterborough is also the curse, it is so small but that’s what makes it so good. It also makes it tough compared with some other teams.
He starts each broadcast with “Hello Hockey Town, we are live from….”
“I’m thrilled to be your radio messenger….”

The listeners have little idea this bespectacled individual in the press box was once a world class athlete who today is still chasing his dream as the players he talk about are: “to be in the NHL.”
Those not at the game, whether in Ontario, Maryland or Finland where Petes parents live, are probably listening to Snoek. He is just one of the many inspiring stories surrounding the Petes’ season and one that players could learn from: if you work hard and long enough, practice, and not give up your dreams; sometimes those dreams come true, but only if you give it everything you have to give, something Snoek has always done in pursuit of his dreams.

Ed Arnold is a Peterborough writer, his latest book will be released this fall by Harper Collins.