Athletes go for the gold at the provinical Special Olympics games



By Tammy Schneider


Seven athletes representing Kincardine joined their peers from Port Elgin, Owen Sound, Walkerton and Hanover to compete at the Special Olympics winter provincial games in Sault St. Marie on Jan. 31 to Feb 3.


The curling team and ice skaters, along with coaches, got off to a bumpy start when the bus hired to transport everyone to the games was delayed because of treacherous driving conditions. It was midnight of Friday morning before they were able to set out for the nine-and-a-half-hour drive. The athletes finally arrived in Sault Ste. Marie at 9:30 a.m.


"At any hour we were ready to go," said coach Nicole Handy-Richardson.


Of the more than 300 athletes participating in the games, the local team was the only one to arrive late because of weather, so organizers graciously re-scheduled practice and competition times so that every participant had the same opportunities.


The five-member curling team - Jessica Belyea, Ryan Brodhagen, Jackie McDonald, Allan Moore and Chris Weese - brought home a silver medal.


When asked how competing at this level effects the athletes, Handy-Richardson said, "It gives them an area to focus on. It's a major goal to make it to provincials. It makes them work a little harder."


Skaters Brooke Thomas and Rosie Laidler loved the experience of competing at the provinicial level. Both young women brought home medals; Thomas won gold in level one free skate, Laidler placed first in level six free skate and level six ice dance. Laidler is rated as one of the finest skaters at the highest level in all of Canada, and has competed both nationally and internationally.


"It was really exciting," said Thomas. "I've never been to provincials before. I met some speed skaters - that was fun."


Laidler echoed the sentiments of her fellow athlete. "I've been doing Special Olympics since I was 11 years old. It's been a really good experience. (The best part) is meeting new friends and meeting old friends too."