Athletes and club are special in every way

Team Newfoundland and Labrador will have a sizable showing at this year's Special Olympics Canada Winter Games, with some very capable and motivated competitors representing Mount Pearl.

Daniel Horn of St. John’s has been bowling for 18 years with the Mount Pearl group, and is so proficient at getting three strikes in a row, that he has garnered himself the nickname “Mr. Turkey.”

Horn won gold at the provincial championships in Grand Falls last March, earning him a spot on the Olympic team.

“It felt very exciting,” he said.

While certainly an accomplished bowler in the competitive field, a major part of the games for him is spending time with his friends and cheering them on, whether they’re throwing gutterballs or strikes.

Horn’s mom Susan has watched him bowl since day one, and can certainly attest to the comradery of the game.

“He loves supporting them… it’s all about the high fives,” she said. “People could learn a lot from the Special Olympics.”

Horn also represented Newfoundland and Labrador at the Special Olympics in PEI in 2018, and was chosen to hold the flag during the team’s entrance into the Games.

“It was a really good time,” he said.

Leading up to the games, Horn is working on staying healthy, and keeping his form in check. He also wants to make these Games special.

How, you may ask?

“To win a medal,” he said.

Teammate Andrew Hynes is also looking forward to the Games. He grew up watching competitive sports on television and has played floor hockey since he was 10. Ever since that time, he knew he not only wanted to compete on a grand scale, but was capable of doing so, despite the remarks of a few naysayers.

“So many people told me I couldn’t do it because of my height or my size,” he said. “As long as you got the drive, you can accomplish anything.”

Hynes has a truly staggering number of medals at his home in Portugal Cove-St. Philips. One look at the collection is enough to make one wonder how a person can amass so many accomplishments in one lifetime.

Still, he’s making his way to Calgary for one thing: to get more.

“I want more and more and more, but I have to work to get more,” he said. It’s hard to go to a national games and try to win a gold medal… It’s not easy.”

He likens his commitment to that of Sidney Crosby, his favorite NHL player.

“He trains to win the Stanley Cup, that’s his mindset,” Hynes said.

Although Hynes is in it to win it, he also uses his position as team captain to inspire and guide younger players, something he wishes he had when he was a kid.

“When I first started I had to train myself and tell myself I’m going to be just like him,” Hynes said, referencing players who inspired him at the time.

“It’s cool to be a role model,” he said.

Beyond Calgary, his dreams are big. He’s got his eye on winning Special Olympics Male Athlete of the Year across Canada, but needs to make his way up though the municipal and provincial levels first.

And, eventually, being featured in Sports Illustrated would be one of the highest achievements he can think of.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if a Special Olympics athlete would be in this? That would be cool,” he said.

Also a member of Special Olympics Mount Pearl, Melanie Taylor has had an exceptionally good run during her time with the organization.

Taylor took home the gold medal for figure skating during the 2019 Games in Red Deer, Alberta, and is gearing to do it again this month in Calgary.

Taylor’s mother Michelle said the Special Olympics changed her daughter's life, but Melanie has largely been too focused on winning and having a good time to realize it.

Still, the Games can’t come soon enough.

“I’m very excited for Calgary, I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

Melanie’s father Derek said she’s been improving over the years, partially as a result of being pushed to succeed by her coaches.

“We just want her to have fun and go out there and do her best,” he said

Both Melanie and Derek were surprised at her win in Red Deer, though not due to any doubts about her abilities. In fact, she was the only Newfoundlander to win first place that year.

“It felt good… I was surprised, I didn’t think it was going to be me, but it felt good,” she said.

This year, Melanie is skating for her grandfather Gerry Taylor, who passed away in 2021. The well-known minor and junior hockey organizer bought Melanie her first pair of skates, as well as her first dress.

As important as the Games will be for Melanie, she still has her mind set on the pizza party at Papa John’s after everything is said and done.

“I’m totally getting that pizza,” she said.

Special Olympics coaches began coaching in Mount Pearl in the season of 1989-1990, but were still considered part of the St. John’s Club at the time.

They started with only eight or nine athletes who practiced a mix of athletics. The club has grown exponentially since then. Floor hockey, for example, was added in the mid-90s. In 1994 the club would compete in Carbonear with the athletes wearing their own colours, but would not become their own separate club until the season of 1995-1996.

Bettylou Russell remembers being the first chair of the Mount Pearl club, and said their initial function was fundraising, in hopes of taking some of the pressure off the coaches.

“First when we started, the coaches did everything,” she said. “After that it became a more organized committee.”

Doug Piercy would go on to chair the club after it congealed into a more organized state, before handing the reins over to Everett Russell, Bettylou’s husband.

The club would grow to over 120 athletes by the time Everrett retired from the position in the late 2000s. Now, the club has 143 registered athletes, with 109 volunteers who make everything happen.

Chad Feehan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News