A handful of local athletes and coaches joined a cast of hundreds to compete for gold at the Special Olympics National Winter Games last week in St Albert, Alberta.
A total of six competitors and two coaches from the Peterborough area brought home 15 medals during the games that ran February 28 to March 3. All Ontario athletes combined earned 189 medals; more than any other province.
“They did amazing well,” stated Peterborough Special Olympics Community Coordinator Bill Strode who added that Peterborough athletes are always big contributors to the medal count at this calibre of events.
Speed skater Nicolas Degenais led the way with four medals in total, winning gold in the 222 and 1000 metre events as well as two bronze in the 333m and 500m. Snowshoer Jesse Campbell brought home a gold and bronze in each of his races in the 100m and 400m respectively.
Degenais mother, Sue, attributes her son’s success to his training with the Kawartha Quarks speed skating club and their training of him alongside their own athletes.
The remainder of the group was made up of nordic skiers Richard Byrd, Steve Caban, Lisa Butler and Krista Embury. Caban won a pair of gold medals in the 2.5 and 5 km freestyle events while Embury, Byrd and Butler all brought home medals in a number of their events as well.
Coaches Ray Walt and Perry Byrd also made the trip as part of the staff of Team Ontario. Walt was the Ontario Nordic team head coach.
“I think they did remarkably well considering the circumstances.” said coach Walt.
Alberta had suffered the same fate as Ontario with regards to the lack of snow fall prior to the games. The site for the cross country events had to be moved two hours north of original race route and the number of races also had to be condensed due to time constraints.
For the nordic skiers the majority of their training for the national event was done without skis. The lack of snow in the area hindered the team’s ability to do any technical training, but didn’t seem to impact their results.
“We were only on skis about 5 or 6 times,” stated Walt.
The Peterborough contingent was amongst 185 athletes and 50 plus coaches from all over Ontario that made the westward trek.
The athletes will now have some down time as they wait for the national organization to determine who will represent Canada at the world winter games next year in South Korean. Strode confirms they should know by May.