Western Valley Special Olympians heading to Calgary

by | Feb 21, 2024

Five local athletes ready to bring home the hardware from 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games

Five Western Valley athletes head to Calgary for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games at the end of the month. The event runs from Feb. 27 to March 2 and will see over 4,000 athletes from across Canada come together to compete.

Marco Gauvin, Frank Long, and Joshua Cousins will compete in Floor Hockey, while Calvin Grant and Patti Connors will participate in Snowshoe Racing for Team New Brunswick.

Western Valley Special Olympics Regional Coordinator Debbi Graham said the team is ready. She’s also heading to Calgary as part of the mission staff with Team New Brunswick. Graham says her position is a full-time job where she gets paid in hugs and high-fives.

“We’ve been practicing with our snowshoers once a week since last fall, but have ramped it up to twice a week. Our last practice is the 25th, and we leave on the 26th,” explained Graham.

For some athletes, the games are more than just a chance to compete; this will be a life-changing experience.

“This is Calvin’s first time he’s been to nationals. It’s also the first time he’s travelled outside of New Brunswick and the first time he’ll be on a plane and the first time he’ll see a big city,” added Graham. “He’s really excited, but he really doesn’t know what he’s excited for, because he’s never experienced this, so it’s going to be special to experience this with him.”

Graham says this is ‘old hat’ for Patti Connors.

“I was looking at some of her older stuff today. Her speaking notes from when she came back from Dubai (Special Olympics World Games in 2019) she had 134 medals in her display case, so she’s now closing in on 150 medals,” explained Graham.

Connors, a Woodstock native, is Canada’s most decorated Special Olympian.

Team NB Snowshoers, back row, from left, Calvin Grant, Jesse Canning (from Fredericton region), and Patti Connors. Front row: Team NB Mission Staff member Debbi Graham and coach Susan Brophy. (Submitted)

“These are professional athletes,” said Graham. “Some people have the impression that we’re just like a rec program, but we’re not. You’ll see Patti in her backyard training with her snowshoes doing laps with her dog. She works hard to keep fit. She keeps a diary of everything she eats and her activity each day. Each of our athletes train just like professional athletes. They work hard to get to go to these games.”

This is also Graham’s first national games experience. She’s hoping to witness the athletes have the time of their lives.

“The very first time I went to the provincials, I went as a bowling coach. At the end of the games, when the handed out the medals, one of the other coaches said to me, ‘do you have Kleenex in your pockets?’ When they started handing out the medals, the athletes were proud beyond anything I had ever witnessed. They were crying happy tears, their families were crying tears of joy. You see, in some cases, these are people that doctors said would never walk, or do this or that, and here they are, competing as an athlete and getting medals around their necks. It’s a powerful thing to witness. I know to have Kleenex handy now,” said Graham.

Graham said the Western Valley athletes recently received their team kits, with new uniforms, baggage, backpacks, and other travel items emblazoned with the Team NB logo. Team members are having a hard time waiting to wear the NB colours, but they know they need to keep them for the big reveal before they fly.

“They’re so excited,” said Graham. “They’ll get to experience the games, meet new friends, and have the time of their lives.”

For road conditions, click the map

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have successfully subscribed! A confirmation email has been sent to your email account. To complete your subscription, open the email and click on the confirmation link. (If you can't find it in your inbox, try your junk and spam folders.) If you'd like to receive our updates more than once a week, please click the "Manage your subscription" link at the bottom of your Newsletter.