Stittsville Special Olympians return to the ice for training camp

(On June 4, 2022, the Special Olympics World Winter Games figure skating team participated in fitness testing at the PanAm Centre in Markham, Ontario for their first team training camp in over two years. Photos: Cathy Skinner)

(Editor’s Note: Cathy Skinner of Stittsville is the Assistant Coach of Canada’s 2022 Special Olympics World Winter Games figure skating team. Cathy has, for over 40 years, worked tirelessly to open doors and to make figure skating accessible for all. For more than 10 years, she has been involved in and dedicated to coaching and working with the figure skating athletes of Special Olympics Canada. Cathy’s guiding principle is this – working with skaters of all ages and levels and helping to foster their love of skating enables them to reach their full potential and achieve their goals; while, at the same time, learning important valuable life skills to guide them outside of skating.)

(Special Olympics skater Katie Xu, Coach Cathy Skinner and Special Olympics skater Jack Fan pose for a celebratory photo on June 4, 2022 in Markham, Ontario.)

From June 3 – 5, members of Special Olympics Team Canada were finally able to get together in Toronto for a long overdue training camp. It was the first time in over 2 years that we were able to be together in person, rather than meeting over Zoom. To say things were difficult at times over these past 2 plus years would be an understatement. With training facilities closed for months on end due to the pandemic, and all of the forced isolations, we were constantly required to pivot, and make changes to help us reach our goal. The goal to represent our country on the world stage, that was to be the last step in the four year quadrennial, that these athletes had worked so hard to reach.

Resilience was definitely the key. Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. And perseverance. Perseverance is doing something despite difficulty, or a delay in achieving success. No words could better describe these athletes and team members. Some of the most resilient and persistent people I know are Special Olympic Team Canada Figure Skaters, Katie Xu and Jack Fan. Both Katie and Jack are no strangers to hard work and the success that comes from this. In the previous World Games in Austria in 2017, both Katie and Jack returned home with multiple world medals, which ultimately resulted in their home rink at the CardelRec-Goulbourn Complex being named after them. But this recent journey had no precedent and was like no other.

(Special Olympics Coach, Cathy Skinner, with two of her skating protégés, Katie Xu and Jack Fan at the Ottawa Airport awaiting their flight to Toronto, Ontario on June 3, 2022.)

Even finally travelling to Toronto was difficult for some of the athletes, coaches and mission staff, due to numerous airport delays, flight cancellations, etc. For Katie, Jack and coach Cathy Skinner, their journey began on Friday, June 3 at 9:00am, and they finally arrived at the hotel at 4 pm. But that was nothing compared to some other team members! The group from Kelowna finally arrived at the hotel after travelling for almost 24 hours, at 6 am on Saturday morning, just in time to dump their luggage and board the buses to the fabulous PanAm Centre in Markham for the fitness testing. Nothing could stop these athletes from giving it their all!!!

(Katie and Jack took their fitness testing at the PanAm Centre on June 4, 2022 and just had to pose with this #BuildingChampions banner. Champions they are indeed!)

Although our goal was to again show the world who we were in Kazan, Russia at the Special Olympic World Winter Games this past January, the world had a different plan for us. The location had already previously been changed from the original site in Sweden, and then the games were ultimately cancelled due to the tragic situation in Ukraine. Additionally, Covid and the numerous shutdowns and constant changes didn’t stop these athletes and coaches from working hard and setting the bar high and showing what it truly means to be Canadian.

Resilience is not like being on a trampoline, when you’re down one minute and up the next. Rather, it’s like trying to climb a mountain without a map. It takes time, strength, and support from others, while almost certainly facing setbacks along the way. However, you ultimately reach the summit and reflect on how far you’ve come. And what a journey it has been!

The first weekend of June, the athletes, coaches and mission staff were very excited to finally receive some Team Canada gear and a very special medal that was created for all team members to cherish. We were also privileged to hear Canadian curler, Jennifer Jones speak at the team dinner. After hearing the struggles she and other members of the Beijing Olympic team went through before ultimately getting to compete, we realized we were not alone in the struggles we faced these past few years. We may not have made it to Russia to represent our Country, but we feel lucky  to wear the maple leaf proudly and say we were members of the longest ever Team Canada.

(The Team Canada figure skating team pose with their coaches adorned in their Team Canada Maple Leaf gear.)

As a coach on the team, I couldn’t be more appreciative and honoured to represent my country with such an amazing organization that understands how important sport is, no matter what level your ability is! Thanks to Special Olympics Canada for all their support, encouragement and reliance! This amazing organization gives opportunities to so many athletes, that they may not otherwise be able to experience. Working with these athletes has certainly taught me much more than I have taught them, and for that I am grateful.

(The Team Canada Special Olympic athletes and coaches who attended their training camp in Markham, Ontario, June, 2022. The team is comprised of Alpine Skiers, Cross-Country Skiers, Figure Skaters, Snowshoers and Speed Skaters for a total of 110 athletes and 46 coaches and mission staff from across Canada.)

All the athletes and coaches are once again hard at work in this now shortened quadrennial, with many new elements, programs, and levels of competition to learn for next years Provincial qualifier. Athlete Katie Xu is also busy preparing for the upcoming Canada Summer Games this summer, for which she has qualified  to compete in the swimming event! These athletes never cease to amaze me!

Go Canada Go🇨🇦🇨🇦


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