Athletes, coaches and provincial representatives from Special Olympics BC were inspired by one another during the weekend at the first ever regional snowshoe training camp held in Williams Lake.
Twelve athletes from Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, Prince George and Smithers, and coaches from as far away as Dawson Creek, converged at Bull Mountain Saturday and Sunday for the camp, focused on skill building Saturday, then implementing those skills Sunday.
From Williams Lake, snowshoers Austin Weber and Ian Stafford — both gold medalists from last month’s Special Olympics BC Winter Games — participated alongside their coaches and training team from Williams Lake Special Olympics, Monique Goward, Deanna Phillips and Danielle Goward.
Both Weber and Stafford said they had a lot of fun, and enjoyed the weekend, while Monique said everyone was proud to be hosting such a large Special Olympics event in the lakecity.
“It was absolutely stellar,” Monique said. “This was my first time hosting anything like this, and we had so much support, parent support, and the community support was overwhelming. These guys are just all so easy to work with.”
Jacques Thibault, sport consultant for Special Olympics BC, made the trek from Calgary to attend the camp, along with Helen Cheung of Vancouver, the Special Olympics BC Performance Co-ordinator.
Thibault said he came across what was, at the time, a small, unorganized group of Special Olympics upstarts from the lakecity during a regional camp hosted at Sun Peaks two years ago.
The transformation, and the improvements, made through the program in coaching, along with athlete development, has been remarkable, he said.
“People in Williams Lake realized really quickly at the [Sun Peaks] camp if they trained they could do great things and go to BC Games,” Thibault said.
“They approached me and asked if they could organize a camp here, and what I’m seeing, and what they’ve accomplished in two years is amazing. They really are amazing people.”
Thibault said part of his and Special Olympics BC’s mandate is to change expectations of what people with intellectual disabilities can do.
“It’s never because they can’t do it, it’s because they don’t have the programs in place usually, and we’re seeing that here with how far these athletes have come,” he said.
Pointing to Weber and Stafford, Thibault said they’ve shown not only great changes in their attitudes, but also in their day-to-day confidence, and the way they carry themselves.
“It’s amazing, really. All these communities in the north are changing expectations of what athletes with a disability can do. They all work so hard, and it makes it all worth it.”
Cheung, meanwhile, added the camps are meant to provide coaches with measures to help their athletes succeed.
“Newer coaches can take back what they’ve learned and help their athletes to succeed,” she said.
Marinka Van Hage, a snowshoe athlete who travelled from Prince George to participate, said she had a great weekend.
“It was good learning and we got to meet lots of new friends,” Van Hage said.
Chelsea Henderson of 100 Mile, another snowshoer, said she wanted to thank the coaches for putting on the event.
“Without all these coaches help … they’re all our inspiration to keep us going,” she said.
Deanna Phillips, who has been an assistant coach with Williams Lake Special Olympics for the past two and a half years, added it was an amazing weekend.
“Williams Lake came out and got to show all these communities how great it is,” Phillips said.
“It was nice to host an event and have something everyone would feel really good about.”