Hard work, commitment and perseverance paid off for two Williams Lake athletes last month, who will now be competing at provincial championships.
Special Olympic snowshoers Ian Stafford and Austin Weber qualified for provincials after racing to dominant results last month at a regional qualifier in Prince George.
Their coach, Monique Goward, said since she joined the group in 2016 it’s been nothing short of an amazing journey watching the athletes progress.
“A couple of years ago I was doing some on-call work with some of the day programs for [Williams Lake] Community Living,” Goward said. “[The Special Olympics] program was struggling and wanted to get the snowshoeing going, and I said I wouldn’t mind volunteering with that, even though I’d never strapped on a pair of snowshoes.”
Goward joined up with her sister-in-law Mary Leblanc, along with Fred Stafford, Ian’s dad, and helped the team in its first year.
“It really took off,” Goward said. “They asked me if I’d want to train the athletes and go forward, and do a program called Club Fit, and that’s when we got involved two days a week in October and we started working out at the Child Development Centre.”
In December, Phillips and Goward were invited to Sun Peaks for a training camp.
“We showed up like the Jamaican bobsled team,” she joked. “We’d just been doing it for fun, but they inspired us and showed us some stuff. We came home and really stepped it up — cardio training, interval training, and we just started pushing those guys and talking to them about being athletes — working on things like core strength and balance.”
Since the snow flew, the team has been outside training after Red Shred’s owner Mark Savard secured the team new competitive running snowshoes.
“They’ve come such a long way,” she said.
The results at the Prince George regionals speak for themselves.
Weber placed second in the 400-metre, first in the 100-metre, first in the 50-metre and second in the 200-metre.
Stafford was second in the 1,600-metre and third in the five-kilometre distance race.
“They were so excited,” Goward said of Weber and Stafford. “You should have seen Austin performing on the podium. It’s just amazing to see these guys.”
The provincials, meanwhile, take place during the 2018/19 season and it’s hair straight back for the athletes as Goward said they’re committed to keep training.
“They’re very dedicated and excited,” Goward said. “I asked them if they wanted to continue, and they’re both totally enthusiastic. My daughter, Danielle, has been coming out and helping us do proper form core strengthening and stretching for our static and dynamic workouts, and talking about nutrition.
“That’s real sacrifice for these guys. Cutting out the junk food and pop — they’re doing their part, and they’ve developed so fast in such a short time. They both said they want to train all summer, so we’re trying to hook them up. We’re trying for worlds with these guys.”