Austin Weber and Ian Stafford warm-up for snowshoe practice in Boitanio Park with high steps on Tuesday, July 23.

Lakecity Special Olympics athletes prepare for the winter season

Snow for some is a far off memory, for a few lakecity athletes it’s at the forefront of their minds

While snow for some is a far off bad memory right now, for a few lakecity athletes it’s at the forefront of their minds.

If you walk by Boitanio Park on Tuesday’s around 3 p.m. you might have seen three young men dashing across the grass in bizarre snowshoe-like shoes. These men are Austin Weber, Ian Stafford and James Mackenzie – a couple of Special Olympics athletes training up for the snowshoe season on specialized grass shoes designed to mimic snowshoes.

Weber has seen great success at the Special Olympics, competing in speed-based events such as the 100 meter, 200 meter and 1,500-meter dashes. Stafford, meanwhile, is an endurance runner and takes part in 5 km runs and other long-distance runs at events. While Stafford is training for the next round of competitive events, Weber is ready himself for the Special Olympics Nationals competition.

Read More: VIDEO: Weber gives gold medal performance at Special Olympics speaking engagement

These achievements have been made possible and are supported by the work of the Williams Lake branch of Special Olympics British Colombia and its volunteer coaches like Monique Goward who spend time every week training with these young men. Goward is a longtime lakecity resident who became involved with Special Olympics BC after finding out, through her work at Community Living, a snowshoe coach was needed for them back in 2016.

She coached Weber and Stafford though Regionals in 2018, Provincials in 2019 and is currently helping to train Weber prior to competing at Nationals in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 2020.

Over the summer months, they’re currently training with grass shoes that Red Shreds helped them procure as they do with other pieces of race equipment the athletes need. They’re doing this training to preserve the muscle memory of the competitors, as while you can run and jog to stay in shape, Goward said you need to wear something equivalent to snowshoes to make sure all the muscle groups are being used.

Goward’s daughter, Danielle, also works with Weber and Stafford as their professional trainer and nutritionist at Concrete Fitness once a week where they take part in weight training, cardio and balance coordination. Goward remarked that since they started working with her daughter they’ve improved overall immensely.

While Weber will be receiving a new coach soon from Team B.C., Goward said she will still be assisting him as a mentor coach as he prepares for Nationals.

Her primary duty will be ensuring he keeps a log of all his training activities from now until the competition in February of 2020, keep up his training at least once a week and make sure he’s comfortable travelling away from home for over a week.

“We’ve taken it from one day a week fooling around in the park with snowshoes in wintertime, to dryland training over the winter one day indoors and one day up in Bull Mountain simulating the tracks we compete on, which are groomed runs,” Goward recalled.

As a result, since they began this journey, Williams Lake has begun to take a more active interest in Special Olympics sports and has led to her to take on the mantle of local coordinator for Special Olympics based in Williams Lake. Goward said they’re looking to expand what they can offer the community through fundraising and other sports, in addition to the existing ones. Currently, next to the snowshoe team, Special Olympics is only able to offer bowling in Williams Lake.

“We’re looking for weigh lifting coaches, soccer, basketball. We have athletes who are willing but we’re really lacking coaches so we’re really making a pitch to the community to come out and stay in shape and play along with Special Olympics,” Goward said. “We can probably run 18 to 20 sports and we only got coaches for two.”

For those like the snowshoe team that gets a coach, however, Goward said a real and noticeable impact has occurred on both their health and their lives. Both Weber and Stafford have lost 20 to 30 pounds over the last two years, developed muscle tone, gained height from better posture and overall are a lot more confident and assertive then they were before. Weber especially has begun exploring public speaking through special Olympics and has expressed an interest in doing more through Toastmasters.

Read More: Lakecity snowshoers race to gold at Special Olympics BC Games

“That’s my motivation, seeing people live their best life and these guys are happy and proud to do it,” Goward said.

Recently, Weber’s mother, Cheryl Chan prepared a luncheon for an event hosted Williams Lake Sportsmen Association on the weekend of July 20 assisted by Stafford and Weber. Abruptly, while there, they decided to give all the proceeds from the luncheon to Special Olympics which was just “awesome” Chan said. They ended up taking home $280.85 in cash donations from a snack table run by Weber and Stafford and over $1,200 from the proceeds from the luncheon.

Overall, Chan has to really compliment Goward and Special Olympics for what they’ve done for her son and the other athletes. The patience she’s shown when pushing him during training has been great, Chan said, as at times he’ll “give her the gears” if he feels he’s the only one working harder.

“It has its challenges, he gets easily frustrated but he has a great sense of humour,” Chan said.

When it comes to competing, however, Chan said he absolutely loves all of it, the competing, the medals and the success of winning. She’s seen similar responses from Stafford and other Special Olympics athletes who take part in these events.

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Patrick Davies photos Cheryl Chan (from left), James Mackenzie, Austin Weber, Monique Goward, Ian Stafford and Fred Stafford pose for a photo after a snowshoe training session in Boitaanio Park. Mackenzie takes part in the training for fun and to improve his health while Weber competes in snowshoe at the Special Olympics alongside Ian Stafford who specializes in long-distance endurance events.

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