Five Creston athletes returned home from Kamloops on Sunday with gold medals in the Special Olympics BC Winter Games 2015 floor hockey event held in Kamloops.
Dodie Benincasa, James Warman, Kathy Schmidt, Steven Stirling and Maclean Brown were members of a team that included players from Grand Forks (which contributed nine players) and Burnaby (three players).
After qualifying for the medal finals with three wins in their division, the Grand Forks team beat Victoria, then lost a close game against Port Alberni. In a nail-biting finish, Victoria beat Port Alberni, allowing Grand Forks to capture gold.
The Creston contingent included co-head coach Richard Chlopecki and coach Cathy Chlopecki.
“There were over 700 athletes participating and it really felt like the Olympics,” Cathy Chlopecki said on Monday. “Over 2,000 volunteers helped out — it was absolutely amazing to see that kind of effort.”
The Creston group left by bus on Feb. 19 at 6 a.m. After picking up athletes and volunteers in Trail and Grand Forks the bus rolled into Kamloops at 4:30. They set up their quarters in a school classroom, had a quick cafeteria supper and headed off to the opening ceremonies. Friday and Saturday were game days, but another highlight was awaiting.
“The athletes were taken to the Healthy Athletes Village,” Chlopecki said.
There, they were given physical checkups, had their eyes tested and their teeth cleaned and checked. One of the Creston players even got a new pair of glasses. Athletes were also given souvenir backpacks, cups and clothing items from sponsoring companies. The medical services were provided by professionals and students.
The Creston Special Olympics program is an active one. It includes rhythmic gymnastics, bowling, baseball and curling, which is just winding up for the year.
“We are starting a golf program this summer, too,” she said.
Chlopecki said the Feb. 19-21 Kamloops Special Olympics wound up with a dance on Saturday night. On Sunday, none of the athletes slept on the eight-hour bus ride home. They were still excited by the experience and the thrill of winning Gold medals. It was a great experience for all involved.
“Just to see the athletes’ pride and joy is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Chlopecki said.