Kristina Richard will never forget her golden moment on an international stage.
“I was jumping for joy and never stopped smiling,” the Antigonish native said.
She and her Team Canada teammates had taken their place at the top of the podium in the 4X400m relay at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Richard, who ran the lead leg, established a lead that her team would not relinquish.
“It was so exciting,” the 24-year-old added.
That signature smile – one that has touched countless people and lights up any room – had a lasting effect on her teammates.
“They started calling me ‘Smiley,’” Richard said, with a laugh, noting the affectionate nickname they gave her.
The gold-medal performance came in her third race of the Games, topping off a fifth-place finish in the 100m and a bronze-medal mark in the 200m.
“I was crying on the podium – I was so excited,” Richard said of the moment she received her first medal.
In racing to third place, she established a personal-best time in that discipline.
“I was so happy,” she added.
The two-medal effort – in her international debut – is the latest chapter of a stellar Special Olympics’ career for the Dr. Hugh Gillis Regional High School graduate, one that began more than a decade ago.
Since she was 13, Richard – who now focuses on track and field – has also competed in swimming, bowling and floor hockey.
A veteran of several regional and provincial competitions, she has also represented Team Nova Scotia in national competition, at home in Antigonish (2018), and Vancouver (2014).
“I was so proud – super excited,” Richard said of her Games’ effort.
Speed was a common thread throughout the experience – both on and off the track.
“I was a little nervous, at first, but once it got moving, it was awesome,” Richard said of her ride on a camel during a Team Canada safari.
There was also an unforgettable visit to an amusement park, which included rides on several roller coasters, one based on The Hunger Games fantasy series.
“It went forward – really fast – and then flew backward,” Richard said, as her eyes widened.
“It was so fast,” she added.
Just like during competition, Richard was fearless on those thrilling rides, offering a quick “no,” when asked if she was scared.
There were also exciting moments cheering on Team Canada, not to mention the opening and closing ceremonies. They had the chance to pose for a photo with Canadian singing star Avril Lavigne, who performed during the opening.
Although the Games were an once-in-a-lifetime experience, Richard said she was “happy to be home.”
She said she was excited to see family and friends, some of which travelled to Halifax to greet her at the airport.
“There were jumping up and down – they wouldn’t leave my side,” she said of the greeting she received from her canine friends when she arrived in Antigonish.
While sipping on an apple juice and snacking on a pastry in the Antigonish CACL Café, where she works, Richard relaxed on her final day off.
“I will keep training really hard,” Richard said, an indication she will have no part in resting on her recent accomplishments.
Her sights are now set on representing Eastern Highlands Special Olympics – her home club – in the 2019 Nova Scotia Special Olympics Summer Games at Acadia University in Wolfville.
And, down the road, she dreams about a possible return to the international stage for the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Germany.
“I am always going to try my best,” Richard said.