Eastern Highlands will take center stage, in athletics, during the 2018 Special Olympics (SO) Canada Summer Games in Antigonish.
Ten out of 36 athletes on Team Nova Scotia are from the Strait region organization, along with two coaches.
“It is pretty impressive,” veteran SO coach Joanne Doiron said of by the strong Eastern Highlands’ representation.
She noted the significance of representing the province in their backyard, with athletics’ events to be staged on the St. F.X. campus.
“It is certainly going to be extra special for them, having the chance to compete in front of family and friends,” Doiron said.
Noting their dedication to preparing for nationals, she said the group has been training since January, including once-a-week gym sessions during the winter months at the Heatherton Community Centre in Antigonish County.
“They have been so supportive,” Doiron noted of that community organization.
Once conditions permitted, the athletes took their training outside, at the same venue in which they will show their talents in national competition in a week or so.
“They have been training really hard,” Doiron said.
On this particular day in early July, even though temperatures hovered in the mid-30s, the athletes were tackling one of the hills on the Antigonish campus. They did catch a break, of sorts; rather than completing 10 to 12 return trips, which are normal for most sessions, there were only four climbs under the sizzling sun.
“No pain, no gain,” Hannah Deon piped up, a poignant comment on the level of commitment and effort each athlete has provided in preparation.
Like most successful teams, the Eastern Highlands’ delegation, in athletics, has great veteran presence.
“She is a real leader,” Doiron said of Nicole Roberts, who has participated in Special Olympics for more than 35 years.
She added the Antigonish native’s experience has been a great asset, noting Roberts often assists in getting her teammates started and focused during practice.
“It is a lot of fun,” Roberts said of the upcoming Games, which will be her fourth, including one winter event.
Each Eastern Highlands’ athlete will race in the 100, 200 and 400m classifications, while six are penciled in for the running long jump and three in the standing long jump. Everyone will also participate in the shot put.
“They have been so consistent in their effort,” Doiron said.
Some of the region’s representatives have extensive experience not only in athletics, but also other sports.
“I wanted to do something different,” Kristina Richard said of her move from swimming to athletics.
This will be here second time representing her province in national competition.
“I am really exciting,” Richard said, noting she looks forward “to making new friends” during the 2018 celebration.
That latter sentiment received unanimous approval from her teammates, including Sasha Repko of Port Hawkesbury.
“I love everything about Special Olympics, especially making friends,” she said.
Repko is one of two Cape Bretoners making the trip across the Canso Causeway to train as members of the Eastern Highlands’ delegation; the other is Carey Clannon.
“I can’t wait to try my best and win some medals,” the Arichat native, who has been part of Special Olympics for more than 40 years, said.
Doiron said everyone is excited about being part of the Games.
“They are such a great bunch to coach,” she added.
Joining Doiron, Deon, Roberts, Richard, Repko and Clannon, as part of the Eastern Highlands’ contingent, will be Dave Smith (coach), Matthew Anderson, RJ Pitts, Roslyn Samson, Lisa Leuschner and Christian Gerro.