Two local skaters competed at the Special Olympics Winter Games in North Bay, bringing home a gold medal and a wealth of experience.Coach Jess Somerville travelled with Woolwich Skating Club skaters Natalie Stevanus and Amy Kempster, along with another skater from Windsor.
“It was definitely an interesting experience,” Somerville said. “For two of the three it was their first time at that event, so it was very interesting for them. It was a new experience but they had a lot of fun, they got to make a lot of friends.”
She said despite being nervous going into it they were able to calm down and have a lot of fun.
“It was lovely to see because at the end of it they do a big dance … and watching the girls let loose and dance and have fun without me having to be right there was pretty awesome,” Somerville said.
Stevanus earned a gold medal in the Ladies Solo Dance event, and came in sixth place in the Level 2 Freeskate category. This was her third time at provincials.
“She was in tears because she was so overjoyed,” Somerville said.
Kempster placed fourth in the Level 3 Freeskate event, an achievement she’s proud of for her first time competing provincially.
“With Amy she came fourth so that means she’s fourth overall in Ontario,” Somerville said. “Once she understood that she was very excited for her achievement. She was saying her goal for next time is to hopefully get a medal.”
The skaters qualified for the provincial competition at the regional event in November of 2013. Somerville has been coaching the girls for nine years and she says they’ve been figure skating for more than 10.
“It’s pretty remarkable actually watching how much they progressed,” Somerville said. “When I started coaching them they already had a good foundation from another coach. Just watching their confidence increase and work with a larger group has been quite remarkable.”
The games included six events: figure skating, speed skating, curling, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. They also served as a qualifying event for the 2016 National Winter Games being held in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
Somerville said the biggest challenge for both girls was staying focused despite the distraction of the crowd.
“They want to do their best but there’s a lot of stimulation for them,” Somerville said. “So for Amy for example it was her second time ever staying in a hotel. Her mother didn’t go so it was also her first time travelling without her mom. She did really well but that was another challenge for her.”
Stevanus’ dance routine included the Dutch Waltz and the Baby Blues. Somerville explained these are set routines that people who have figure skated even many years ago would have done.
“It’s specific steps, timing and edges,” Somerville said. “That was the event that she got a gold medal in. The other event that she did is free skate. She’s level two so she does things like bunny hops, waltz jumps, different jumps and spins. Amy did free skate, she’s level three. She’s doing jumps and spins but they include more of a technical element. She does a sow cow jump and a toe loop combination.”
The skaters will be showing off their routines at the annual Woolwich Skating Club carnival on March 6.
Somerville said the event was a great experience for both the athletes and the spectators. The athletes had the chance to show they can achieve anything that anyone else can even with whatever challenges they have. It was also a much friendlier environment than Somerville was used to at figure skating events.
“You walk in the change room with the Special Olympics athletes and they’re high fiving each other, they’re smiling, they’re congratulating each other, they’re telling each other their dresses are beautiful and they love their hair,” Somerville said. “So it’s great for the athletes and for me, as a coach or as a spectator it gives you a different perspective on acceptance.”