Editor’s Note: This story originally ran Feb. 27, 2015. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are tapping into our archives more, particularly for arts and sports. This special section will return to its regular schedule when the crisis concludes with Phase Three in Alberta.
By Mitch Goldenberg
Countless smiles, supportive cheers and an abundance of high-fives were common across Grande Prairie over the weekend during the 2015 Special Olympics Alberta Winter Games.
More than 500 athletes from 16 Special Olympics community programs from across Alberta and Northwest Territories competed, in addition to the presence of more than 180 coaches and volunteers.
West Central, the team of tri-area Special Olympians, competed in floor hockey, speed-skating and show-shoeing and brought home a combined 58 medals.
“It’s phenomenal. They were pumped, they loved being there and seeing old friends,” said snowshoeing coach Barbara Umpherville. “We went to have a good time and do our best, and that always seems to pay off.”
The medals were split between 16 tri-area athletes who made the region proud by hauling in a truckload of medals and showing great sportsmanship, as the floor hockey team fell short of the podium but were still in good spirits.
“It feels amazing, just awesome,” said Andrew Chamczuk, who picked up three gold medals and a bronze in speed-skating over the weekend. “You’re trying your best, you have the determination, you’re preparing mentally and it’s a great feeling to have success.”
Though the teams for next year’s national winter games in Corner Brook, Nfld. will not be officially announced until next month, last weekend’s strong performance is sure to translate into several tri-area athletes representing Alberta in 2016.
The Games kicked off Feb. 20, which saw two teams run throughout Grande Prairie, visiting local schools with the Flame of Hope.
That evening, the Games officially kicked off with the opening ceremonies, which had a fire and ice theme and included performances from Nathaniel Shantz, Brandon Lefebvre, Tenille, Melshake Movementz and Circus of Hell.
During the national anthem, a RCMP ERT Tactical Operations team rappelled from the rafters with the Canadian flag.
“We wanted (the Opening Ceremonies to be) centred on the athletes,” said Games Organizing Committee chairwoman Cristy Ellen. “This is an athlete-centred Games. This is to showcase our athletes and what they can do and we wanted our athletes to have an incredible experience and that’s what we tried to do.”
The Games’ seven sports ran from Feb. 21 to 22, consisting of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, speed-skating, snowshoeing and floor hockey.
“I think that the Special Olympic Winter Games went fantastic,” said Ellen, as the Games drew to a close Sunday. “I think we can check this off in the win column.”
After several months and countless hours of training, she said it was rewarding to see the athletes compete, sport smiles and enjoy the weekend with family and teammates.
“It’s worth it when you see the athletes compete and you see them happy,” she said. “Our Special Olympic athletes are here for the purity of the sport. It’s about the camaraderie. It’s about cheering everyone else on. It’s about being together and being able to do your best.”
Team West Central is hoping the strong performance in Grande Prairie will attract new participants for the next session of Special Olympics programming. Next up are golf, bocce ball and track and field, which get started this May.
“I hope it gives us a wonderful boost,” said Umpherville, nothing that summer registration started last week. “Hopefully people will see what kind of success you can have.”
With files from Logan Chow
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