Posted By KATE MCLAREN, THE DAILY PRESS
Spirits shone as brightly as the Olympic flame Sunday as athletes from across Northeastern Ontario participated in the Special Olympics Regional Winter Games.
Excitement was in the air as torch and flag bearers stepped onto the ice surface to "Believe," the theme for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"Everyone's very enthusiastic," said Cathy Davis, one of the organizers for the Timmins Games. "It's great that everyone has a chance to compete, no matter what their abilities."
Although above average temperatures forced the cancellation of Gary Perkins' event, cross-country ski, the Timmins athlete was unfazed.
"It's OK," he said Sunday morning, after the opening ceremonies held at the McIntyre Arena. "I'm going to go cheer on the snowshoers today instead."
Competing helps them build camaraderie, pride, and realize skills some of them didn't even know they had.
Diane Wahlman, Region 10 co-ordinator, Special Olympics
Perkins has already competed for a spot in the provincial competition.
"I'm pretty fast, and I like to win," he added. "I train a lot, sometimes I do 7.5 kilometres."
Perkins is one of about 60 athletes who competed in events which include figure skating, snowshoeing, curling, and floor hockey.
Participants travelled from as far as Hearst and New Liskeard for this year's games.
"This year's games are important, because it's a qualifying year for the provincials," explained Diane Wahlman, Region 10 co-ordinator for the Special Olympics. "Competing helps them build camaraderie, pride, and realize skills some of them didn't even know they had.
"Plus it's physical activity for them, and it gives them something to focus on. They have a lot of fun," she added.
Julia Romualdi is a 14-year-old figure skater who earned first place, and a spot at the provincials, with her Ratatouille routine yesterday morning. The R. Ross Beattie student has been skating since the age of four, and is so comfortable on the ice that she rarely gets the jitters.
"I never get nervous," she said. "I just feel proud of myself, and I show that on the ice when I skate."
Romualdi kept an eye to the TV during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and said there was one skater she looked up to.
"I really liked Joannie (Rochette)," she said. "Her mom died, and she still skated and won a medal."
Carrying the torch during the Special Olympics opening ceremony was 15-year-old Riley Kolisnyk, who handed the torch off to a famous face as an official torchbearer for the 2010 games.
"I handed the torch to Shania (Twain)," he said. "She asked me how it was. She was really nice."
Kolisnyk, a long distance runner, was chosen as a torchbearer by his school, Timmins High and Vocational, because of obstacles he had recently overcome.
"I had a brain injury last summer, and since then I've been working really hard," he said. "It's pretty cool that I got the opportunity to carry the torch. It was amazing."
Timmins speed skater Nicholas Dagenais has been successful not just in the regionals. The 18 year old participated in the Worlds in Idaho in February, where he earned second place. For Dagenais, the best part of any games is the racing.
"When I get out on the ice, I just let everything go, my mind is clear, and I do what I came here to do," he said. "The adrenaline rush is awesome. It's a really good feeling."
Fellow racer Nicole Ferguson agrees.
"My goal is to make provincials, and I'm always trying to beat my personal best," she said.
After thinking for a minute, she modifies her answer slightly.
"Well, my biggest goal is to have fun, and it's great to be with all of my friends."
Special Olympians who qualify for the provincial games will compete in Thunder Bay in February of next year.