Seven athletes from the Cranbrook-Kimberley area went to the B.C. Special Olympics held from February 2 to 4 in Kamloops with six athletes winning a total of 18 medals.
Those seven athletes joined 27 others who made up Region 1 team, representing the East and West Kootenays.
Three cross country skiers from Cranbrook took home nine total medals. Layne Benoit, Jessica Klassen and Daryl Mayer each won two golds and one bronze.
Klassen and Mayer competed in 100 Metre Classic, 500 Metre Classic and 1 Km Classic. Benoit competed in the 2.5 KM Classic, the 5 KM Classic and the 7.5 KM Classic.
Four alpine skiers also went, Neil Rye from Kimberley and Erin Thom, Kendall Salanski and Jesse Jensen from Cranbrook.
The alpine skiers competed in three events over the two day event: Giant Slalom, Super G and Slalom.
Salanski brought home two golds and a bronze, Jensen three golds and Thom one gold and two silver.
Alpine skiing coach Misty Pagliaro said Rye’s skiing has “exponentially improved” over the last year, but was up in a very tough category competing against very talented young athletes, and just missed bringing home medals of his own this year, placing fourth or fifth in each of his categories.
“They don’t go by age, they just go by ability level, and in his age category he was the oldest one in his category and he’s up against skiers that are around 14 years old,” Pagliaro explained. “And his times were so close, like half a second off being in the medals.”
Pagliaro was joined by cross country coach Kevin Phillips and chef de mission Joanna Thom, who was head of the whole region.
She moved to Cranbrook in 2013, from Nakusp, where she’d been a Special Olympics coach already since 2008. She began coaching curling and golf when she first moved to Cranbrook and then in 2016 became the alpine ski coach.
She was the ski school director at the local hill in Nakusp and a group of ladies wanted to start up Special Olympics there and had some questions about skiing for Pagliaro, who ultimately wound up taking a place on the board of directors.
“The rest is history,” she said. “I got addicted to volunteering for this crowd because they are amazing individuals to work with.”
She has worked with most of these athletes right since she moved to Cranbrook ten years ago.
These BC games were qualifiers to determine who will make Team BC to go on to the Nationals in Calgary, Alta. next year.
Later this year Erin Thom will be competing in World Games for the Summer Special Olympics, representing Canada on the golf course.
Pagliaro said the trip as a whole was fantastic. Over 700 volunteers in Kamloops made all of their time at the hotels, and venues and sporting events extremely smooth and enjoyable.
“A huge thank you to all the volunteers and coordinators of the games in Kamloops,” she said.
Leading up to the events the athletes train on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings. On Thursdays, the Kimberley Alpine Resort Race League provide them access to their gates to train on and on Sundays, the Kimberley Alpine Team allow them to use their gates.
If anyone is interested in becoming involved with the Special Olympics, visit specialolympics.ca to find the nearest team to you out of the 55 that exist in B.C.
If someone wants to compete, there’s numerous programs to get into it. Athletes can start as young as two years old with Strong Start, and can then go on to the Sport Fundamental Programs and can then start competing at 12 until whenever they don’t want to compete anymore, as there is no age limit.