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Britnee Vey of Lower Sackville, N.S. relishes the feeling of putting on her skates and gliding onto the glistening ice at her local arena.
“It’s so fun, and I like going fast,” says the triumphant Special Olympics medalist, who won two silver and two bronze medals for various distances in speedskating at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay, ON in February 2020.
On April 17, Britnee and her sister, Krista Vey, will be hitting the ice again to take part in a Special Olympics/Unified Sport speedskating relay clinic at the RBC Centre in Dartmouth.
Organized by the Dartmouth Crossing Speed Skating Club, the teams, which range in age from youth to adults, will include Special Olympic athletes and Unified Sport partners. Skaters like Krista will be permitted to wear hockey skates if they’re unaccustomed to speed skates.
According to Sheila McGinn, one of the coaches who has been making strides in the development of a long-term vision for the program, the immediate goal is for all athletes to learn the required skills to participate in the Unified Sport program on a recreational basis. She also hopes coaches will gain familiarity with the program so they can build it into their coaching plans.
“In the short term, we’d like to introduce this event as a regular recreational program for Special Olympics athletes and their Unified Sport partners. We’d also like to expose more Special Olympics athletes to speed skating," McGinn explains.
Inclusive and positive
Michel Caron, of Dartmouth, N.S., is supportive of the initiative. He plans to partake in the relay along with his son, Philippe Caron, a sports enthusiast who has excelled in everything from snowshoeing to hockey to soccer since his childhood in Winnipeg, Man., but especially enjoys bowling and swimming.
Pointing to the many health and wellness benefits of sports, such as fitness and developing new skills, Caron also cites the social ones.
“The program is inclusive, and the positive interaction with the coaches and athletes is great; it’s beneficial for everyone involved,” he says.
His message to other parents of children with special needs is to facilitate opportunities that will enrich their children’s lives and provide them with a chance to discover their potential.
“Don’t be afraid to get your children involved in sports," he adds.
'I love speedskating'
Abbey Stapleton of Sydney River in Cape Breton will be among four Special Olympics athletes attending the event. She’s seen her confidence soar over the six years she’s been speedskating.
“When I’m on the ice, I feel like I’m flying. I love speedskating and I’m going to stay in it forever," Stapleton says.
Patricia Swan and Emma Grandy are co-coaches for Speed Skating/Special Olympics and run the program Stapleton attends. Based at the Sydney Mines Community Centre, they develop weekly workouts for the speedskaters. Supported by two dedicated volunteers, Lochlan Gordon and Brett Yhard, the program focuses on enhancing and further developing the athletes’ skills.
“During our skating sessions, we practice those drills. Periodically, we’ll have races that enable the athletes to test what they’ve learned,” explains Swan.
Making a difference
This type of programming is making a difference in communities across Nova Scotia, says Matt Quinn, director of Sport & Programs for Special Olympics Nova Scotia.
“Sport is bigger than itself; it’s a platform where everyone involved gets something out of it," Quinn says. "The Special Olympics/Unified Sports programs promote inclusion and active living; leading to lessons everyone will take throughout their lives.”
Donna White, of New Waterford, Cape Breton, N.S. can attest to this. She primarily coaches the Play Unified Basketball program in Cape Breton, but has assisted with other sports as well.
“Special Olympics helps children and adults alike develop physically, mentally, and socially, and contributes to the development of long-term healthy lifestyles," White explains.
"Athletes make new friends, learn new skills, develop a sense of accomplishment and community. It also affords other students, coaches, and volunteers, etc., to develop skills in a wide range of areas.”
That’s exactly what McGinn’s aiming to achieve as she continues to plan for the upcoming speedskating event.
“We’d like to get the message out generally about the Special Olympics in order to reach people with an intellectual disability who may not yet be involved.”
Opportunities to get involved
At the Dartmouth Crossing Speed Skating Club, McGinn says, programs start at the ‘Learn to Skate’ level, so no prior training in skating is needed to participate in their introductory programs.
“If our event is successful, and there’s an interest, we’d like to schedule two or three similar events throughout the 2021-2022 season, and we’d be looking for a sponsor for those events.”
McGinn points to the momentum that’s being built as a glide in the right direction.
“With the athletes coming down from Cape Breton, there’s an additional opportunity to reach beyond our local programming and possibly develop some province-wide events," she says.
"The relay is one of the most enjoyable speedskating activities, so we’d like to bring that extra fun into our Special Olympics programming.”
Get more information:
Contact: Sheila McGinn, coach, Dartmouth Crossing Speed Skating Club
Cell phone: 902-443-8781
E-mail: [email protected]