Local athletes shine at Special Olympics
Swim team athletes (left to right) Jason Pugh, Ponoka; Warren Campbell, Lacombe; Head Swim Coach Sheri Mitchell, Lacombe; Justin Hoffman, Ponoka; Skylar Krossa, Ponoka; and Angie Ahlquist, Ponoka recently participated in the 2017 Special Olympic Games in Medicine Hat, Alta. (Photo supplied)
The Lacombe Special Olympic team participated in the 2017 Special Olympics Games in Medicine Hat on the weekend of July 7-9, experiencing the games for their first time.
The athletes experienced and learned from many new opportunities throughout their time at the Special Olympics as they participated in two competitions: bowling and swimming.
“In a recreational opportunity to be in an organized sport to play with other athletes who are similar situations, there is that social connection and friendship that is part of it,” said Dwayne Campbell, the administrator of the Lacombe Special Olympic Team.
This is the first year that the Special Olympics was held at a provincial level, which brought in athletes from across Alberta, as well as the Northwest Territories.
Approximately 900 athletes and 275 coaches from 60 different communities, with 800 volunteers, participated in the games over the weekend.
“There was a lot of people there,” said Swim Coach Sheri Mitchell. “There were able to meet athletes from all other communities, and that was really great.”
During their time in Medicine Hat, the team had to endure a heat wave that saw temperatures reach as high as 38 degrees Celsius.
However, it didn’t stop the team from competing in their events and having fun at the Olympics.
“There are a lot of people that really enjoy it, with a lot of athletes and volunteers,” said Connie Pugh, a parent of one of the athletes from Ponoka.
In the 5-pin bowling events, the Lacombe team won two golds – Colin Strugnell and Vickie Days – and two silvers – Cobie Matheson and Jeanette Lawton – in the singles division.
In the team division, the team came in fifth place, but Ashley Lamey, one of their members, saved her personal best.
For Lynne Kilpatrick, one of the team’s bowling coaches, the team’s experience in their competition was more than just about winning.
“They just had fun bowling, and the medals were just extra perks for them, but none of our athletes were expecting them,” she said.
“They all felt really comfortable doing whatever sport that they were in.”
In the swimming events, the team won one gold – Justin Hoffman – and three bronze medals – Skylar Krossa, Angie Ahlguist, and Jason Pugh – in their athletes’ competition. Warren Campbell and his fellow swimmers on the team beat their personal bests in more than one event.
The experience for the swimmers was overwhelming at first, especially with the heat wave, but they managed to pull themselves through.
“It was exhausting and a lot of work, but they swam their hearts out and did me so proud,” said Mitchell.
“The improvements that I saw – even in between warm-ups, preliminaries, and finals – were amazing.”
Throughout the athletes’ time at the pool, they learned how to overcome the pressure of swimming in chaotic environment before a huge audience and encourage one another to do their best.
Future for the teams
After a successful experience at the games in Medicine Hat, the Lacombe Special Olympics Team is looking to continue with its development, integrating new athletes from the surrounding areas – Blackfalds and Ponoka – and having them participate in new sports.
“We are looking at how to get more athletes into our program,” Campbell said. “Is there interest in other sports that either current athletes would like to participate in or may bring in new athletes?”
For Pugh, she feels optimistic that the organization will continue to develop into a “bigger and better organization.”
“There are a lot of people that really enjoy it, with a lot of athletes and volunteers,” she said.
“It is just something that they will always remember and give them something that they look forward to and work hard for.”