A lakecity duo joined more than 600 athletes in Vernon last weekend at the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games.
Austin Weber, 26, and Ian Stafford, 22, were among the top athletes in the province in the snowshoeing event at Sovereign Lake at the Games — both racing away with multiple medals in their respective events.
After earning their spots in the 2019 SOBC Games through regional qualifiers, Weber and Stafford have been training virtually around the clock in one fashion or another to prepare for the big event.
Their work ethic, dedication, commitment and positive attitudes paid off in a big way, as Weber — a sprinter — brought home the gold medal in the 100-metre dash, and a bronze medal in the 200-metre event. Stafford — a long-distance specialist — captured gold in the 800 metre, silver in the five kilometre and bronze in the 1,600 metre. Stafford’s four by 100-metre relay team also won a bronze medal, while Weber, who competed on two relay teams, raced to a gold medal and a bronze medal in those events bringing both athletes’ medal totals to four each at the Games.
The duo’s coach with the Williams Lake Special Olympics program, Monique Goward, said their results are well deserved as Stafford and Weber have completely devoted themselves to their training and have improved by leaps and bounds since they started in the sport in 2017.
Goward simply called the duo’s performance at the Games “inspiring.”
“I’m just so impressed,” she said. “They’re so proud. And since these guys have started Special Olympics their posture has changed, you can see their confidence change, their bodies have toned up — they’ve got balance and core strength they’ve never had before — just leaps and bounds in terms of stamina, cardio and all the things they need in their sport.”
Goward described Stafford as the “long distance guy, with the rhythm and stamina,” while Weber is “like lightning out of the gate.”
“Austin’s got a long stride and he’s very competitive,” she said. “It was impressive because there was a photo finish in the 100 metre, and he got the gold. The guy he beat in that race competed in Austria last year at the Special Olympics World Games, so it was sweet.”
Weber said it felt “pretty good” to medal at the Games, and said he really thinks his hard work is paying off. He noted he also bowls and has played soccer with Special Olympics in the lakecity.
“It’s difficult (sticking to his strict diet and workout routine). I just like the running,” Austin said.
This past November, with the help of Williams Lake personal trainer Danielle Goward, the group began focusing more on their nutrition, including things like limiting sugar consumption, eating properly and exercising two to three days a week in the gym. Once a week, the team visited Bull Mountain to practice on the snowshoe trails at the facility, and also trained on the ice currently blanketing Williams Lake.
“Prior to the snow we were even running on the track (at Lake City Secondary School) and going up to Signal Point and running up the hill as much as we could. Plus the Child Development Centre gave us their gym once a week for indoor training when we couldn’t be outside,” Monique said. “We practice 12 months a year and they give it their all.”
At the Games, Weber and Stafford represented Region 8, comprised of athletes from 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George.
Stafford, meanwhile, was chosen as one of the flag bearers for Region 8 at the SOBC and said it was an honour to be selected.
“I was proud,” Stafford said.
Asked what he likes the most about training and competing in snowshoeing, Stafford said it’s the “sprinting at the end” he enjoys the most in his long-distance events.
The Games were capped off with a dance that saw all participating athletes converge for a fun night of partying and socializing.
“That was the best part,” Stafford noted.
Monique also said a big thank you is in order to the eight volunteers from the region who travelled to the SOBC with the athletes, to Concrete Fitness, who has helped train and support Weber and Stafford and to physiotherapist Stuart Bell for his work with the duo.
“It brings tears to the eyes to see how it’s (Special Olympics) changed their whole lives,” Monique said.
“The intensity, the drive and desire they show is something very special, and it’s given them passion for something in their lives. These guys are freaking amazing.”