Olympic medallist pays special visit to Special Olympians

MINDEMOYA—This year’s annual Special Olympics Baseball tournament was already special because it was a qualifying year for the Special Olympics, but the event was made even bigger by the appearance of a very special guest. The guest was a member of the Canadian Olympics team who competed at the London 2012 Olympic Games and one the eight members of the silver medal winning women’s eight rowing team, Janine Hanson. The excitement could be felt all around Manitoulin, with Central Manitoulin Reeve Gerry Strong showing up on Saturday to say a few words of thanks to Ms. Hanson, and MP Carol Hughes and MPP Michael Mantha forwarding their thanks even though they were unable to attend.

Of course the most excited people at the ballpark were the athletes who prepared for Ms. Hanson’s arrival by making cards of thanks that they could give to her, and the Manitoulin teams even signed a baseball for the Olympian. Although she came to the Island to meet her boyfriend Matthew Stephen’s family, Ms. Hanson said she was happy the way things worked out. “It’s great that it worked out to be this weekend. I like to work with kids with disabilities and it’s great to see all these kids competing.” Ms. Hanson also stayed to do a meet and greet and take pictures with all the athletes, answer some of their questions, and sign hats and t-shirts, which put a big smile on many faces as they got to see and even touch her silver medal, which she was happy to be wearing. “I bring the silver medal everywhere I go right now, and I even wash it with soap and water so it stays clean.”

Ms. Hanson’s silver medal at this year’s Olympics in London didn’t come easy as it took a lot of hard work starting in 2000 with six of the next 12 years being focussed on full time rowing. Her first Olympics in Beijing didn’t go quite as she wanted to, but it inspired her and her team. “After finishing eighth in Beijing, I knew I could do better, and I knew I had a lot of room to grow as a rower.”

All that hard worked finally paid off at her second games when she and her team pulled off a silver, second only to the Americans. “It was so great, really exciting, we worked really hard and it all paid off,” stated Ms. Hanson. Of course while training for the Olympics Ms. Hanson got to row in a lot of different venues, although the team did most of its training in London, Ontario. She explained her favourite place to train, “was in Italy, there was a lake there we trained in before the world championships and before the Olympics.” She also had good things to say about London after being there for so long. “London did a really good job—the weather was great and that was surprising considering it was the rainiest season.”

Now that she has completed her second Olympic Games and has won a silver, Ms. Hanson has decided to call it a career and not return for the next Olympics. She feels it is time to focus on moving forward and having a family instead of focussing on training all the time. Of course now that she’s done she still has other ideas as to what she would like to devote her time to. “I want to work with kids with autism and kids with special needs. In 2003 I did that for a summer job and I really connected with them. I want to do this because it’s not work for me and it’s just play.” But just because she is done rowing as a professional doesn’t mean she wants to call it quits from a sport that she called her life. “I would still coach, but more as a hobby rather than as a full time sport,” she said.

For any future Olympic athletes in the making, if it’s something you strive for Ms. Hanson does have some advice. “You have to be ready to work really hard, that’s how you win a medal.” The weekend was great and Ms. Hanson said she enjoyed her first trip to Manitoulin Island, even taking some time to go for a swim in Providence Bay and she was very happy that her visit happened to coincide with the baseball tournament. “It feels really exciting to be here, and it’s so good to see there are so many people involved in, and enjoying sports and active living.”