Special Olympics Manitoba’s Snowshoe team was in Winnipeg this past weekend for a training camp ahead of the 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games February 27th through March 1st in Calgary. There are 18 athletes and six coaches from across the province, including athletes Janell Brown (Winkler), Trenten Heinrichs (Rosengart), William Middleton (Steinbach) and Shannon Ivey (Minnedosa) as well as assistant coaches Sabrina Klassen (Winkler) and Julia Thiessen (Altona). Altona's Chris Sumner is serving as the team's mission staff.

This is Thiessen's first national games, and just her second season with the Altona Panthers Special Olympics Manitoba club.

"I would say it's definitely been a big learning curve as I've prepared for this," she explained. "Last March was my first time going to the provincial games, here in Winnipeg, and so it's been very exciting. It's been exciting to get to know the whole team, and all of the athletes going to Calgary. It's also been great that I've been surrounded with supportive coaches and mission staff, and the whole team at Special Olympics. I'm basically just excited and open to learn and to see everybody in Calgary."

For snowshoer, and Eastman Flame club member William Middleton, this is also his first national games experience after 12 years of being involved in Special Olympics.

"This has been my dream since twelve years ago, just to be there, and just to see the experience," he shared while also reflecting on what he's most looking forward to. "Just the pride of everybody there, I think. Just to see bright faces around, and people trying their hardest."

people snowshoeingSome members of Team Manitoba practicing Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg at John Pritchard School. William Middleton (centre) in black and grey hoodie.

This is Shannon Ivey's second national games, having competed at the 2020 Winter Games in Thunder Bay, Ontario. From Minnedosa, she is very excited to be part of Team Manitoba for a second time.

"To do my best," is Ivey's goal for later this month, who also talked about her favourite part of the weekend's training camp. "To run and get better at it."

As Special Olympics volunteers, everything is focused on the athletes and giving them the best possible experience, especially when preparing for a national competition. The athletes selected for the team have been training for nearly a year, and assistant coach Thiessen was asked what it's been like to see the growth of the team, which has been been practicing 3 to 5 times a week.

"It's pretty cool to see the progress they've made, and I think the biggest thing for me as the coach is just to be able to celebrate with the athletes, and to be there for them if things don't go entirely their way," she said. "They've been working really hard, and we're all very proud of them, and looking forward to seeing them compete in Calgary."

You can listen to Chris Sumner's conversation with Julia, William and Shannon, below.