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Barrie Special Olympians putting years of hard work on the line

Several local athletes looking forward to their chance to shine at 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Calgary later this month

Eight athletes and four coaches from Barrie’s Special Olympics National Nordic Team will head west at the end of the month to compete in the 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games.

Midhurst teen Chanelle Corbiel will be competing in the national event for the first time, and she  is pretty excited.

Corbiel, 16, told BarrieToday she has only been skiing for a year, and is both excited and nervous, but plans to do her best and hopes to come out on top.

It’s taken her a lot of training to get to where she is, including everything from running, fitness tests in the gym and skiing at Horseshoe Valley Nordic Centre.

Athletes with an intellectual disability from across Canada will gather in Calgary, Feb. 27 to March 2, with the goal of achieving personal bests and, in some cases, the opportunity to be named to Special Olympics Team Canada.

Aaron Hurd, 18, has been skiing since he was a Grade 9 student at St. Joseph's Catholic High School in Barrie. 

“It motivates me,” he said when asked what he likes most about cross-country skiing. 

The fresh air and exercise are also great, Hurd added.

He told BarrieToday he’s looking forward to being part of the team — and is making room at home for the gold medals he plans to bring back home with him.

The National Games serve as a qualifying event to be part of Special Olympics Team Canada to take part in the Special Olympics World Games. 

For Anne Scully, mission staff with Team Ontario Nordic, seeing her athletes reach this next level after all of their hard work has been “awesome.”

“After COVID, this is pretty important,” said Scully, holding back tears. “We have worked hard for three years to get to the National Games. They’ve worked hard all through COVID self-training. They couldn’t do anything with the team so (they) were doing it all independently.”

Hellaina Rothenburg, who works as a district developer with Special Olympics Ontario, will be in Calgary as a Special Olympics Canada sport advisor for the cross-country ski venue, working with volunteers, helping coaches and athletes and said there’s a lot of hard work on the part of the athletes to get to the games.

“Athletes from right across the country are going to be coming together to compete against each other," she said. "For people who are involved in sport outside of Special Olympics — we call that generic sport — but for people who are already in elite level sport going into provincials and nationals … this is what this (event) is for our Special Olympics athletes.

"It’s an opportunity to be on a sporting stage, have those goals and have their lives enriched in that way," Rothenburg added. 

The team has recently had to change their training plan, as the lack of snow made it tricky to get out on the trails. Instead, they spent last weekend running hills and stairs near St. Vincent Park in the city’s east end to keep themselves competition-ready.

Barrie resident Sam Windross, 27, has been skiing for 12 years and said after not being able to keep up with classmates in high school, he decided to try his hand at cross-country skiing with the Special Olympics. 

“There are different divisions and you can actually race against your ability. I like going out and meeting new people, and getting good exercise in," he said.

This will be his third time competing at the national level, Windross said, but heading back will be just as exciting as the first time he went.

“You get to compete against new people and in new races,” he said. “Opening ceremonies are always my favourite. There are always people there and sometimes music.”

In total, Barrie will see 23 athletes compete at the Calgary events in alpine skiing,  five-pin bowling, snowshoeing, curling and cross-country skiing.