Special Olympics British Columbia British Columbia

SOBC speed skating Regional Qualifier embodies spirit of sportsmanship

24 May 2018

This year’s Speed Skating Regional Qualifier in Richmond brought together skaters from across the province for the opportunity to secure a spot for the 2019 SOBC Winter Games, set for Greater Vernon on February 21 to 23.

Joanie Hayes, Competition and Youth Coordinator at SOBC, said 26 skaters from across the province took part in the Regional Qualifier.

Hayes said she is impressed with the commitment of the athletes, travelling from as far away as communities like Nelson and Dawson Creek to compete.

“It shows what kind of dedication they have to their sport,” said Hayes. “No matter the results, there’s never any complaints about the results. Everyone on the ice was encouraging each other to do their best.”

She said it’s that kind of sportsmanship that makes the competition much more than just winning and losing.

Hayes said Regional Qualifiers serve as a springboard for athletes with hopes to move on to the 2019 Winter Games. She said athlete selection for the Games will be announced in June.

One of those athletes hoping to be selected is Thorpe. The SOBC – Victoria speed skater travelled to the Olympic Oval in Richmond with his sights set on the 2019 Games.

“I get really nervous with butterflies in my stomach before competitions, but when I get there I forget and just jump on the ice and skate,” said Thorpe.

The Victoria athlete said he relies on his parents and his coach Steve Nielsen to help him focus on race day.

“We do land exercises for warm-ups or just try and have fun making each other laugh with silly jokes.  I always get a good sleep the night before and eat a healthy breakfast.”

Thorpe said Nielsen gave him the nickname Rocketman eight years ago because of his fast off the starts and somewhat shaking starts going into corners. However, over time Thorpe said he’s been able to steadily improve his skating under his coach’s guidance.

“Steve is sort of like a best friend that tries to help me do the best I can.  He believes I am able to do a lot and makes me believe that too.”

Thorpe said he’s starting to see his hard work pay off, posting a number of personal best times.  He also said he’s seeing the improvements off the ice. He said being a SOBC athlete has improved his self-confidence in his everyday life.

“I work at Abkhazi Gardens doing gardening and do volunteer security at Victoria Cougars Hockey games in my community. My coworkers really like me and say I do a great job.  They can count on me.”

Hayes said it’s the hard work and dedication by athletes like Thorpe that make SOBC a benefit to the communities they serve. She said by engaging in sport, people with intellectual disabilities help to tear down stereotypes and build more inclusive communities.

“It’s pretty inspirational to see how far these athletes can go. It’s not just about winning. It’s about building yourself up and bringing those around you along for the journey.”

Hayes points to volunteers who sacrifice their weekends to help put one event.

Donna Bilous, Region 3 Coordinator who helped organize the Speed Skating Regional Qualifier, said the one-day event wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the help of the BC Speed Skating Association’s certified official who helped run the event and the volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules.

“It’s a huge thank you to them.”

Bilous said for many skaters from across the province, this was their first time to compete at a Regional Qualifier.  She said a number of skaters were able to put up their personal best times in Richmond.

Bilous said SOBC veteran speed skates Matt Williams and Paige Norton continued to dominate their events, taking first place in all three and four of their distances respectively. However, she said twins Jessie and Zach Thibeault were “hot on Matt’s heels, making for exciting racing”.


SOBC - Victoria speed skater
SOBC - Victoria speed skater Chris Thorpe bumps fists with coach Steve Nielsen before a race.

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