Special, para athletes set Games mark

Kenn Oliver
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More than 1,300 athletes gather for competition in Clarenville region

Consider them, if you will, the one per cent that knows only how to give 100 per cent.

Special Olympics sit-skier Kiana Winsor beams with pride as she crosses the finish line with attendant Stacy Power Sunday morning at the White Hills Ski Resort as part of the  Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games in Clarenville. Winsor won gold in her 50m classic event. A record 13 Special Olympic and Para-nordic athletes are taking part in this year’s Games. — Photos by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram

Of the approximately 1,300 athletes competing at the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games in Clarenville this week, 13 are Special Olympic or Para-nordic athletes.

While that may seem like a paltry number to the casual observer, it is a provincial Games record for participation.

“It’s awesome,” says the Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador (SONL) Clarenville chapter’s Courtney Price. “Hopefully it’s an uphill trend.”

The athletes are only competing in bowling and cross-country skiing disciplines in the first half of the Games, both of which got underway Sunday morning.

Consider them, if you will, the one per cent that knows only how to give 100 per cent.

At the White Hills Ski Resort, near Clarenville, 16-year-old Special Olympian Ryan Drover of St. Philip’s was taking part in his second provincial Games, having swam with the St. John’s North team at the Summer Games in Harbour Grace and Carbonear in 2012.

“It’s been a great way for him to cope with some of the challenges he has with his autism,” says his mother, Kerry Drover. “The more active he is, the better he copes.”

Asked to compare this Games experience to his summer experience, Drover offers frank assessment.

“It’s pretty good,” he says through a sheepish smile after finishing first and setting himself up for a gold medal in his 800m classic style race, “It’s cold. More cold and less wet.”

Drover was joined on the trails by Special Olympics sit-skier Kiana Winsor from Clarenville, taking part in her first games less than a year after a undergoing an 18-hour surgery in Montreal to fuse a metal rod to her spine.

“A year ago, we never would have thought this would ever have been possible, so this was big for us today,” her mother, Janice Harnum, said after her 15-year-old daughter completed her first race of these games, a 50-metre classic style gold medal-winning jaunt on an a course which allowed her to travel downhill.

“Being unable to walk and with very little strength in her arms, by the committee adapting the track she was able to do it herself,” says Hanum.

But for Special Olympic and Para-athletes, winning medals is only part of the Games experience.

“These young people are part of the team, they’re down at the athlete’s village with everyone else and living that life. It’s lots of fun for them,” says Margaret Tibbo, a recreation specialist in the Janeway’s pediatric rehabilitation department and the president of Parasport Newfoundland and Labrador.

“This committee made sure these children were first and foremost,” says Harnum. “I’m very proud to be from this area right now.”

Games committee member Mary Larner-Pardy, who has a background with special needs students through her position as an Eastern school district program specialist for student support services, says every effort was made to ensure this was a “Games for everybody.”

“I was responsible for the bowling and cross-country in terms of making sure their needs were taken care of and for anyone coming in from outside, saying ‘keep us in mind when you’re planning these things.’”

After the first day of competition, the smiles on the special Olympic and para-nordic athletes faces alone were proof enough that no one is being excluded from any aspect of the Games experience.

“Seeing the smiles and hearing those cheers and the excitement of everybody, that’s what it’s all about,” says Larner-Pardy. “It’s not about the medals, it’s about being part of it and that’s what we put our emphasis on.”

 

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telykenn

Organizations: Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador, White Hills Ski Resort, Parasport Newfoundland and Labrador Games committee

Geographic location: Clarenville, Para, Newfoundland and Labrador Harbour Grace Montreal

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