Several Surrey, Delta and White Rock-area athletes will compete at the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games later this month.
Boasting 143 competitors with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics BC’s largest-ever provincial winter team will pursue personal bests in Thunder Bay from Feb. 25 to 29.
Athletes from B.C. will be involved in eight sports, including alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing, speed skating and, in a first for the national Winter Games, five-pin bowling.
Competitors representing the Surrey zone are figure skaters Stephanie Divin, Jordyn Flamma, Marc Theriault and Jennifer Utendale, speed skaters Jesse Thibeault and Zack Thibeault and cross-country skier Sean Beddows. They’ll be joined by figure skating coach Tannis Marshall.
The list of Team B.C. athletes is posted to soteambc2020.ca.
Twin brothers, the Thibeaults are aiming to speed their way to victory on the ice.
“What I really love about the sport is how I feel when I’m skating,” Zack said in a bio on the Team B.C. website. “I feel calm but strong and when I’m racing down the ice, all my worries go away. In other words, I just feel happy!”
Added Jesse, who got involved with Special Olympics four years ago: “Competing at nationals means I have an opportunity to be the best that I can be on and off the ice, and to make my province and team proud.”
Divin says it means a lot to be part of Team B.C. at the Games.
“I was so happy when I found out I am on Team B.C.,” she said. “I go to my practices on the bus three times a week. I think I will do well in 2020. I am going to try my best!”
Her goal at nationals is to win. “I want people in B.C. to be proud of me,” she said. “I want to go to World Games and win there too. I skate three times a week, and if I could I would skate five times a week.”
For Beddows, the event in Thunder Bay won’t be his first national Games. “I took part in swimming in 2018 and cross-country skiing in 2016,” he said. “Friends of my parents introduced me to Special Olympics in 1996. My first sport was swimming.”
Figure skater Theriault, a North Delta resident, has competed in nine national Games, in multiple sports, since he got involved in Special Olympics in 1995. “I am happy that I can represent my province one more time,” he said. “I love to try new things and to help other people so they can get better in what they do. I have been to eight Special Olympics World Games for three sports (figure skating, soccer, and softball). I have worked at the Hudson’s Bay Company for 22 years and I’m working full-time hours.”
Fellow Delta resident Cory Duhaime will compete in alpine skiing after earning gold in slalom, giant slalom and the super-G races at the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games. “I had a great feeling of accomplishment after a lot of hard work,” he said.
A White Rock resident, Utendale competed in Level 1 figure skating at the national Games in 2012. “I am very excited and proud to be a part of Team B.C. again,” she said. “I work at the White Spot three days a week and I volunteer at a seniors residence as well as at our local elementary school. I take lessons and play the piano. I am part of the Semiahmoo House Society SAS group (self-advocates) as well as their Toastmasters group. I like to travel and my best trip so far was to Mexico with the Semiahmoo House Rec program.”
Flamma, who lives in Maple Ridge, said skating “gives me a chance to express myself the way I want to.” Away from the rink, she is a music student who loves to sing and design costumes.
The Team B.C. athletes qualified for nationals during the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games in Vernon.
“This is an incredibly well-prepared provincial team,” said Michelle Cruickshank, Special Olympics Team BC 2020 Chef de Mission. “I am so proud of the dedication and effort shown by all of these inspiring athletes, coaches, and volunteers. They have been working hard for three years to reach this event, and I know they will do B.C. proud at National Games. Their abilities and their sportsmanship will inspire everyone watching.”
In Thunder Bay, 1,200 delegation members from Canada’s 10 provinces and two of three territories will compete.
Looking ahead, Surrey will host the 2021 Special Olympics B.C. Summer Games in July of that year. The Games will involve athletes in 10 sports, including athletics, basketball, bocce, golf, powerlifting, 10-pin bowling, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, softball and swimming.