A group of five Special Olympians from the Shuswap earned the opportunity to travel to Antigonish, N.S. for the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games as part of Team B.C., flying across the country to compete in the bocce and basketball events.
A great effort was put in by each member of the group, which was made up of basketball player Tessa Allwood and bocce players Nick Anchikoski, Carina Chu, Tristan Harms-Popham and Kathleen Nelson.
Each athlete put in their best effort, with Allwood earning a gold medal in basketball while Nelson and Chu returned home with a silver and bronze medal.
“I was emotional, real emotional,” Chu said of the medal ceremony. “I was in tears. Oh my gosh. My mom said ‘oh Carina, we were in tears for you too.’”
Allwood says people have been coming up to congratulate her on winning a gold medal in the basketball competiton, while Nelson added “people were saying that we are famous.”
While the medals are a great souvenir from the trip, many of their memories are of travelling across the country for the competition alongside so many fellow Special Olympians.
“I really liked meeting the new people from different teams,” Nelson begins.
“I met new friends and told them good luck and shook their hands and we took pins to exchange with athletes from other provinces,” Chu adds. “I met lots of people from Quebec, trying to speak their language was pretty tough.”
They also enjoyed the chance to explore a little slice of Nova Scotia and see the sights of Canada’s east coast.
“It was pretty, it smelled really nice because of the ocean,” Chu said, noting she would love to go back and visit in the future.
The group had the chance to be a part of the opening and closing ceremonies as well, complete with dancers and pipers, something they seemed to really enjoy.
“The opening ceremonies were really fun, but the ending ones made me sad it was all over,” Chu said.
These athletes practised for their events three times a week leading up to the games, putting in close to 100 practice sessions this year and showing an immense amount of focus in their preparation.
They were selected for Team B.C. based on their performance at the 2017 provincial competition and ranked based on a points system for their dedication, physicality and commitment to practice.
At the games they also had the chance to stay in dorms with the other athletes, meeting new friends and gaining a sense of independence from their time on their own.
“We didn’t have our parents there, we couldn’t even look at our parents,” Nelson said.
“If they were there then maybe our games wouldn’t play good,” Chu continued. “That’s why I said, okay, it’s time to focus, it went pretty good.”
Despite playing on a different surface than they were used to, Nelson and Chu both performed well in their bocce event, bringing home a silver and bronze medal, respectively.
“The green was slow, so the balls didn’t move so well,” Chu said, with Nelson adding, “the grass was longer, it made it more of a challenge.”
The national competition in Antigonish is the highest level of Special Olympics competition in Canada, and acts as a qualifier for the upcoming international games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
While still uncertain if they have qualified, Allwood in particular is quite enthusiastic about the opportunity, smiling broadly and excitedly saying, “I am ready for it.”