These athletes are rising again

Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander to host Special Olympics NL Winter Games




SaltWire Network


Excitement is in the air as, for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown, Special Olympians from across the province will compete in the Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador (SONL) Winter Games. Four hundred athletes, coaches and mission staff from Special Olympics Mount Pearl, St. John’s Explorers, CBS Brightstars, Trinity-Conception Gentle Giants, Clarenville Allstars, Bonavista North Polar Bears, Gander Wings, Exploits Hurricanes, Corner Brook Vikings, Bay St. George Bravehearts and Lab West Biglanders will head to Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander to compete from March 9 to 12. Events include five-pin bowling, floor hockey, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and curling. Grand Falls-Windsor Deputy Mayor Mike Browne, chair of the Games organizing committee, says the 12-person board of volunteers have been meeting since late November preparing for the huge event. “There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into it,” Browns says. “I really admire the volunteers because it’s a significant amount of time they are putting into this. It’s just an incredible experience.” SONL is currently recruiting 250 to 300 volunteers in Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander to ensure the Games’ success. The event will begin on a Thursday with the opening ceremonies at Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium. Competitions start Friday morning and continue into Sunday afternoon with the final events and medal presentations at the Arts and Culture Centre. Competitions will be hosted in Grand Falls-Windsor at Exploits Lanes, the Exploits Nordic Ski facility, Exploits Valley Intermediate and Shawnadithit Centennial Field, as well as at the Gander Curling Club in Gander. “The competition and spirit that will be displayed over the weekend is something to see, it’s incredible to watch,” Browne says. “We encourage all the citizens to come out and support the athletes during the weekend. It’s a fantastic event and a very rewarding experience for everybody.” Outside the competition are social events, including Special Olympic Healthy Athletes. Special Olympics Strong Minds promotes athlete awareness and connects them with coping strategies that can be used in competition and daily life. It also provides resources on managing stress and skills that promote emotional wellness. The most anticipated event of the weekend is the athletes’ victory dance which takes place on Saturday evening at Exploits Valley Intermediate and is part of the closing ceremonies. “The athletes love that part of the event,” Browne says. “It’s just as important as everything else.” Exploits Hurricanes will have 15 bowlers, nine curlers and four snowshoers compete at the games. Special Olympics coach Trevor Wicks, who has been coaching since his son got involved about five years ago, is preparing 15 athletes to compete in bowling. “The best thing that could every happen to me,” Wicks says, adding it’s incredible being involved with the Special Olympics athletes. “Dealing with all the athletes is the best feeling. They make you cry, they make you happy, they make you everything. And to me, you can’t beat it. They are pure joy. And it’s all teamwork, they are all about each other. I think that’s the best thing about it.” Everyone is excited for the games, especially the dance, Wicks says. “Some people haven’t seen each other for three or four years now. It’s going to be fun.” Caleb Blackmore will be bowling during the Games. “This is my first one,” he says, adding he is most looking forward to “actually seeing all my friends compete with me.” Liam Gibbons bowls three times a week and has won awards for his bowling achievements. He enjoys having fun, seeing his friends and socializing and is “absolutely” looking forward to the winter games. Melvin Hanhams, who will also be bowling during the Games, is competitive by nature. However, his favourite part of Special Olympics is “meeting new friends” and seeing friends from other clubs. Tony Kyritsis has been involved with Special Olympics since his family moved to the area in the 1980s. This year he is excited to curl with his teammates in Gander. While he admits he’s competitive, he enjoys the socialization as well. “It’s like this, win or lose, have fun doing it. If you come home with a medal you do, if you come home with nothing, that’s fine too, we had fun,” Kyritsis says. After a couple of years of not being able to hold large in person competitions, SONL is excited to host this event, Kim McDonald-Wilkes, Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador program director adds. “The positive impact these games will have on our Special Olympics athletes is unmeasurable,” McDonald-Wilkes says. “Athletes and volunteers will come together as a province to return to competitions, rebuild friendships with fellow athletes and coaches, and reignite their passion for the Special Olympics movement celebrating together. As the Games theme reflects, together we will ‘rise again.’”