While weather conducive to snowshoeing is slipping away as springtime emerges, for three Special Olympians life will be all about snowshoeing for the next 10 months.
Colby Oickle and Michael Moreau of Liverpool and Emily Latta of Oakhill, Lunenburg County, are members of the Special Olympics Lunenburg/Queens branch. They’re scheduled to compete in snowshoeing for Team Canada at the 12th Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan, Russia next January, where more than 2,000 athletes from 106 nations are expected to compete in seven sports.
Darlene Broome, coordinator for the Lunenburg/Queens group, spoke highly about the dedication the three Nova Scotians have shown over the past two years.
“We’re super proud of them. They are people with intellectual disabilities, but I can tell you that they work very hard to get where they’re at,” said Broome.
Oickle, Moreau and Latta have been invited, along with 105 additional athletes and 48 coaches and mission staff from across Canada, to participate in what is called the Team Canada 2022 Training squad. They’re the only special athletes in Nova Scotia to receive the invitation.
Charity Sheehan, Chef de Mission for Team Canada and Executive Director for Special Olympics PEI, explained this as the first step on the journey to the Special Olympics.
Athletes were invited to be a part of the training squad based on the results from the national championships that were held in Ontario in February 2020. Oickle and Moreau had been training for snowshoeing just a year prior to competing at nationals.
Oickle earned two silver medals and a bronze. Moreau and Latta earned gold, silver and bronze medals in their events.
Although this is just called a training team, if they are able to stick with the programming they will be part of the final roster for the Special Olympics World Winter Games that will be named later this fall.
“There’s lots that can happen over the course of the year in terms of being ready to actually physically get to a world games scenario. It’s really about them adhering to their training contracts,” said Sheehan.
Sheehan suggested some people may not be ready for the kind of commitment involved. Others may decide it’s not really what they want to do, they may suffer an injury or come down with an illness.
All three athletes have been successful in provincial and national competitions, but this would be their first world championship.
Moreau is 36 years old and has been involved in the Special Olympics program for 20 years. He has participated in floor hockey, softball, bowling, athletics and snowshoeing, and was twice named Nova Scotia’s Male Athlete of the Year.
His favourite part about competitions is “running fast and playing hard.”
Moreau lives at the Queen Street group home and works at Penny Lane Enterprises and Woodworking in Milton.
Colby, 25, has been involved in sports for more than 12 years, focusing on softball, floor hockey, bowling, athletics and snowshoeing. He also works at Penny Lane Enterprises, having proved capable on the skill and chop saw. He’s also a member of the maintenance crew responsible for some group homes.
“When I got picked to go to nationals I trained very hard, and I got to tell you that I’m pretty happy to have [trainer Betty Daury] on my side helping me train,” said Oickle, describing how she keeps telling him to keep his shoulders down. For Colby, the best part about going to competitions is meeting new people and dancing.
Now 29, Latta has been competing since she was 12. Among her favorite pastimes are dog walking, swimming and working with her father in his shop. She said that she also enjoys “hanging out and meeting new people” when she goes to competitions.
All three athletes have competed in every provincial summer and winter competition since they joined the Special Olympics program.
Helping to train the athletes at a local level is Betty Daury, who has been with the Lunenburg/Queens Special Olympics for 33 years, and Kody Latta, Emily’s father. Also assisting are Susan Inglis and Earl Mielke.
There is still a chance that the COVID-19 pandemic may cancel the World Winter Games, but, in any case, the extra training will be put to good use, according to the trainers. Moreover, if the event is cancelled, the athletes will remain on the list to compete at the next Games.
“It is really exciting that we get to celebrate the athletes and the coaches that have worked so hard, and were in Thunder Bay a year ago, and they deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments there,” said Sheehan.
“Whether we leave our living rooms and actually go to Russia is yet to be seen. So we’ll just go on a journey together, and, along the way, we’ll give lots of different resources and support and a little bit of hope as well in this process, so athletes have something to look forward to,” she said.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin