Monday night, a community pep rally was held at Winkler Elementary School with family and friends coming together to show support for the two athletes, two coaches and one mission staff from the area going to the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Calgary later this month.

Rosengart’s Trenten Heinrichs and Winkler’s Janell Brown are part of Team Manitoba Snowshoe, with Winkler’s Sabrina Klassen and Altona’s Julia Thiessen serving as Assistant Coaches on the team of 18 athletes. Altona's Chris Sumner is the team's Mission Staff. Happening February 27th through March 2nd, 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the country will be descending on venues throughout "Cow Town" to compete in events including curling, 5-pin bowling, figure skating, alpine skiing and more.

"Having fun and hang out with friends," said Heinrichs when asked what he's most looking forward to at his first national games with Special Olympics. "I've been working out in our fitness room at NPC (Northlands Parkway Collegiate in Winkler), I've been training hard doing workouts, been practicing snowshoeing and doing some leg lifts and leg workout and running and working hard."

This is Brown's second Special Olympics Canada games, having participated in track and field at the Vancouver games about ten years ago.

"There's a bunch of strength training in Winnipeg, and then practice with Sabrina twice or three times a week," said Brown regarding her training over the last number of month, noting she's most looking forward to competing against other provinces.

Both Brown and Heinrichs qualified for Team Manitoba Snowshoe through the 2023 Special Olympics Manitoba Winter Games held in Winnipeg in February 2023. 

"What an amazing honour it is to go to a national event, so much hard work went into it," said Winkler Mayor Henry Siemens during his remarks to the crowd. "So much support from friends and family goes into this type of event. We are exceptionally proud that you're going to go and represent southern Manitoba. We're certain you're going to represent us well. We're excited to see what happens, but more so than anything else, we also want to make sure the friends and family, those that have loved and supported and challenged these athletes to prepare them to be here, a lot of the success they're seeing is due to the work you're providing, and have provided. We're so thankful you feed into these young athletes to give them this opportunity they have now to go represent us and to do us all proud."

"Super excited," said Klassen with a smile on her face when asked about what's to come later this month. "We haven't been at games for four years, so being able to see the hard work and dedication the athletes have put in, they've been training up to three to four times a week, and then being able to compete and showing all the hard work they've done. Being able to see other athletes from across Canada, and we haven't seen some of them in a long time. So yeah, super excited."

This is Klassen's fifth national games, with Altona's Thiessen being part of Team Manitoba for the first time.

"This is my first time going to national games, and so it's been really nice to have an experienced assistant coach (referring to Klassen) to check with and learn from and ask questions too, because it's a big learning curve," shared Thiessen after the pep rally. "I'm excited to see the athletes, and from what I saw at provincial games, there is such a community amongst the athletes and families, so I'm excited to see those relationships as well."

"As the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games approach in Calgary, we couldn't be more excited to cheer on our incredible athletes, Janell Brown and Trenten Heinrichs, as you compete in snowshoeing," said Morden-Winkler MLA Carrie Hiebert during the pep rally. "You have worked tirelessly to reach this point. We are so very proud of your achievements today. None of this would be possible without the amazing help and guidance of the coaches and volunteers who have dedicated their time and energy to these amazing athletes sitting here today. Julia, Sabrina, Chris, your commitment to Trenten and Janell success is so important, and we want to express our deepest gratitude to all  you guys do for them."

- With files from Candace Derksen and Zack Driedger -

You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show host Chris Sumner's conversation with the group, below.