Island Special Olympians capture seven new medals at national event

From left, Manitoulin Special Olympians Austin Featherstone, Kelsey Mellan, Matt Bedard, Mark Dokum and Coach Janet Anning pose for a photo with the Olympic flame during their time at the Summer Nationals in Nova Scotia.

MANITOULIN—Our Manitoulin Special Olympics (MSO) athletes have done the Island proud, bringing home seven medals in various events—one gold, two silvers and four bronzes—at the Canada Special Olympics National Games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia last week.

“They all had personal bests,” says MSO coordinator Janet Anning, who is also the team coach. Each athlete participated in three events, so winning seven medals means the Manitoulin team earned a top spot in over half of the events they entered.

Placing well at major competitions is nothing new for these athletes. According to Ms. Anning, all of the athletes have previously competed multiple times at either the national or world level. Ms. Anning says the athletes love coming out to events such as these.

“They have great pride, they’re happy, they’re so excited to meet other people from other provinces,” she says.

Manitoulin’s Sandra Graham was at the games as well to coach the Almaguin baseball team. They ended up with a silver medal.

The national competition is partially designed to select the athletes who will advance to the world stage. Athletes need to first pass regionals and provincials to reach the national competition. The next world competition will be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in March 2019.

“They have the goal to make it to worlds; they have trained extremely hard,” says Ms. Anning. “My goal is to get them to do their best, and if they get to the worlds, great!”

The results of who will advance to the world stage have not yet been released, though Ms. Anning expects to hear within the next few months. The event is fast approaching and any participating athletes will need to begin financing their trips as soon as they can.

As for the recently-completed Halifax competition, the only issue competitors faced was the intense heat. Organizers shut down the event during the afternoon for two days in a row.

Along with the warm weather, Ms. Anning says the Antigonish community had warm hearts.

“The volunteers and people in the town were so nice and accommodating. It was a very happy event,” she says.

By Ms. Anning’s account, the athletes could not be better ambassadors for Manitoulin Island, either.

“They always represent us well, not only in their athletic abilities; they’re always sportsmanlike, very nice to people, they’re very respectful athletes,” says Ms. Anning. “They represent us well in every way.”

Ms. Anning worked to get the Manitoulin Special Olympics team restarted in 2006. She says Greg and Ellen Lockeyer coached the team to previous world competitions before they had to put the team on hold because of time constraints.

“We started with bowling and worked our way up to everything else,” says Ms. Anning about the team’s revival. “Hopefully it’ll keep continuing after I retire!”