One of Canada’s most decorated Special Olympians will leave behind the cool of the rink for the heat of a desert climate next month.
Orillia speed skater Stephen Graham is one of 10 athletes from around the world chosen to take part in the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run as it is carried into Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where the Special Olympics World Games will take place March 14 to 21.
“What an amazing opportunity,” said Graham, 37. “When I got nominated a year ago, I wasn’t getting my hopes up because there were so many awesome athletes. I didn’t think it would actually happen. Just getting nominated was a dream come true.”
During the last leg of the run, Graham and others will make a number of stops along the way, where they’ll get to share their experiences.
“It’s my job to bring awareness to Special Olympics,” he said. “It shows what Special Olympics has done for you and it helps people understand what Special Olympics is all about.”
Graham knows well what it’s all about. In 2014, the multiple-medal winner was named Canada’s Special Olympics Male Athlete of the Year.
His talents have taken him far and wide for competition, but he’s never been to the Middle East, and this time he isn’t competing.
“I always prepare by training hard, but how do you prepare for this?” he said with a laugh. “It’s a whole new job.”
While in Dubai, Graham and other Torch Run participants will take part in a polar plunge. He is raising money for the dip, with all funds going back to Special Olympics — half to the Ontario organization and half to Orillia Special Olympics.
A fundraising dinner will take place Feb. 23 at the Moose Lodge in Orillia. The event is to celebrate Graham’s upcoming Torch Run, as well as Desiree Allen, an Orillia athlete who will be competing in the Special Olympics World Games.
Tickets to the fundraiser, which starts at 6 p.m., are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or by calling Jim Linn at 705-321-0029. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.
Donations toward Graham's polar plunge can also be made here.
While Graham always has gold on his mind when competing, he’s equally eager to meet new people. That has been obvious to his mother, Elaine Sherrit, as she’s watched her son’s athletic pursuits over the years.
“He’ll make more friends (in Dubai),” she said with certainty.
She and Graham both praised members of law enforcement, who are among the biggest supporters of Special Olympics.
“The experiences any of our athletes have would not be possible without them,” Sherrit said.
Graham will fly to the United Arab Emirates at the end of the month. The final leg of the Torch Run will start March 4.
Graham golden at Ontario Winter Games
Graham was again impressive on the ice during the recent Special Olympics Ontario Winter Games in Sault Ste. Marie.
He won gold medals in the 1,000- (1:49.80) and 1,500-metre (2:46.15) speed-skating events and picked up silver in the 500- (52.06) and 777-metre (1:20) races.
“That’s almost where I should be for that kind of ice,” Graham said, noting he usually skates on Olympics-size ice, but the rink in Sault Ste. Marie was NHL-size. “That’s the biggest challenge.”
Overall, he was pleased with his results and the experience.
“I always have fun at these things. I get to meet new people,” he said. “It’s about more than skating. Special Olympics is like a family to me.”