Assiginack hosts send-off party for athletes heading to the World Winter Games

Manitoulin Special Olympic snowshoers Kelsey Mellan and Matt Bedard, centre, are presented with a banner wishing them well on their journey to the World Winter Games in Austria in March at an event in their honour hosted by the community of Assiginack last weekend. photos by Robin Burridge

Kelsey Mellan and Matt Bedard to represent Canada in snowshoeing

ASSIGINACK—The community of Assiginack hosted a celebration over the weekend in honour of Kelsey  Mellan and Matt Bedard who will be representing Canada in snowshoeing at the Special Olympic (SO) World Winter Games in Austria in March.

“Welcome everyone and thank you for coming to honour some very talented athletes in our Island community,” said Assiginack Mayor Paul Moffatt at the event that was held at the Assignack Arena last Sunday. “We are here today to wish Kelsey Mellan and Matt Bedard good luck as they head to Austria in March.”

Mayor Moffatt commented that “Kelsey is someone to watch on her snowshoes.”  Kelsey has been snowshoeing for 10 years, attending the World Winter Games in South Korea in 2013 where she won a silver medal and achieved a personal best in her races.

“In order for her to qualify for the world games, she had to win gold in regional, provincials and national races,” added Mayor Moffatt, “and win she did. She will be competing in both the 100 metre and 200 metre race in Austria.”

Matt also has a storied history of competing at both the summer and winter games, competing at the SO Summer Games in Vancouver in 2014 and earning gold medals in high jump and 4×400 relay and a bronze in the 1,600 metre race.

“In 2016 he competed in the Winter Nationals in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland and won gold in the 400, 800 and 1,600 metre snowshoe races,” said Mayor Moffatt. “In Austria, Matt will be competing in the 800 and 1,600 metre snowshoe races.”

Mayor Moffatt noted that Matt loves to cook and works as a prep cook at the Anchor Inn Hotel in Little Current. He also holds a black belt in karate, “and we are told he is the first Bedard ever to have no inhibitions about dancing.”

Kelsey and Matt’s coaches Judy Olacke and Catherine Tipper were invited to join the athletes on the arena ice.

Kelsey Mellan and Matt Bedard get ready to cut their cake at a celebration held in their honour in Manitowaning.

“Kelsey and Matt are fortunate to have an incredible support team,” said Mayor Moffatt.

Ms. Olacke has been the snowshoe training coach for both Manitoulin Special Olympics (MSO) and for Team Canada and has been volunteering with the MSO for over 10 years, coaching Kelsey for 10 years and Matt for four.

MSO athlete Dayne Tipper was also asked to come onto the ice and was recognized for being a good teammate and his help in helping Kelsey and Matt train.

Dayne was awarded the Male Athlete of the Year for SO Ontario last year. He also competed with Kelsey and Matt at the National Winter Games and despite falling ill, brought home bronze in the 800 and 1,600 metre snowshoe races.

Kelsey and Matt’s parents were also recognized for their support.

The Manitowaning Wolves presented gifts to Kelsey and Matt and a banner was unveiled, dedicated to the athletes.

Signed by all the students at Assignack Public School and members of the public, the banner will be hung in Manitowaning while Kelsey and Matt are in Austria.

“Kelsey and Matt, we can see you have an amazing support system with coaches, teammates and family,” said Mayor Moffatt in conclusion. “Please know that the community applauds your dedication and commitment to your athletic goals and we are so very proud knowing you are not only representing Manitoulin Island, but your country and we wish you all the best in Austria.” The arena filled with loud cheers following the presentation.

“We are a bit nervous and excited,” Kelsey told The Expositor about their upcoming competition.

“We got all our Team Canada gear this week,” added Matt. “From clothing to bags, so that was great. We have been training really hard getting ready. We went to a training camp in January for Team Canada and we have been working with a personal trainer twice a week, plus outdoor training twice a week and on our own.”

“They are very dedicated,” said Ms. Olacke. “They have been working really hard. We have had a lot of snow, so they have been able to do a lot of snow training, which has been good. We do training, plus they do a lot on their own. On the Team Canada snowshoe team there are only six athletes from Ontario—I think it is pretty impressive that two of them are from Manitoulin.”

The 2017 World Winter Games will be held Tuesday, March 14 to Saturday, March 25 in Austria. There will be 2,700 athletes from 107 nations competing in nine sports including: figure skating, speed skating, floor hockey, floorball, snowshoeing alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding and stick shooting.