Squamish alpine skiing coach Randy Scott doesn’t speak French, and racer Gabrielle Thériault of Verchères, Que., doesn’t speak English. Fortunately, they both speak a little bit of tiger.
Tiger growls in the start gate helped the pair forge a close bond during their time on the ski slopes at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5. Team Canada earned a record total of 44 gold, 44 silver, and 21 bronze medals and produced many personal-best performances and memorable moments.
Scott, a 20-year Squamish resident, has been a volunteer coach for Special Olympics B.C. (SOBC) for 24 years, and the 2013 World Games marked the fifth time he served as a coach for Special Olympics Team Canada.
The 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games brought together more than 2,300 athletes and coaches from more than 110 countries around the globe to compete in seven sports in PyeongChang, the host city of the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Among them were 102 Canadian athletes supported by 39 coaches and mission staff members, most of whom are volunteers, and the total of 141 members gave Canada the third-largest delegation at the Games.
En route to earning two silver medals and a fifth-place finish in her slalom, giant slalom, and super G races, Thériault demonstrated both the improvements she made with her training coach, Joanne Gouin, in her year of dedicated training leading up to the World Games, and an affinity for Scott’s particular brand of start-gate encouragement. A coach who loves being in the start gate with the athletes, Scott would roar like a tiger at the race-ready Thériault, and she roared right back.
“She roared like a tiger when she went out, every time,” Scott said. “Then she goes past the first gate and she’s still roaring.
“She lives on the other side of the country and speaks a different language, but we’ll be friends forever.”
Scott said such experiences with Special Olympics athletes, whom he calls “the nicest people I know in the whole world,” are what keep him giving his time to Special Olympics and signing on for the intense but deeply rewarding experience of coaching with Team Canada.
Throughout the 17-hour days that started at 5 a.m., Special Olympics Team Canada’s volunteer coaches dedicate themselves to supporting and encouraging their athletes and doing everything to ensure they have the best experience possible on the significant World Games stage.
“I had tears in my eyes when Gaby was on the podium getting her silver medal,” Scott said. “She and I bonded so phenomenally, despite the fact that I don’t speak any French and she doesn’t speak any English.”
Scott, who is SOBC North Shore’s head coach of alpine skiing as well as the SOBC provincial coach for the sport, said the Special Olympics Team Canada 2013 alpine skiers were a great group of interesting individuals who overcame personal challenges as they worked to represent their country with pride and personal-best performances.
The Canadian racers achieved a number of significant accomplishments, including the 23 medals they earned and the four skiers who were moved up from the Intermediate level to Advanced when assessed against the other World Games racers.
“That in itself gave the athletes that much more confidence,” Scott said.
Whistler’s Avery Newman was one of those four skiers, and he went on to earn a bronze medal and two seventh-place results in his three races.
Scott said he also valued the teamwork with alpine skiing coaches Tom Advocaat of Coquitlam, Michel Guyon of Varennes, Que., and Martin McSween of East Coulee, Alberta, as well as alpine skiing mission staff member Leslie Thornley of Kelowna. They formed a “dream team” of experienced alpine skiing coaches, in the words of one of the team managers. And Scott was pleased to again accomplish his World Games goal.
“It’s a wonderful experience. I achieved my goal — my goal has always been to make it a life-altering experience for all of our athletes in a safe environment,” he said. During the five World Games in which Scott has coached, he has found that he always comes home with “athletes who’ve had a life-altering experience for the better.”
The coaches and mission staff members are deeply impacted too. A 2003 winner of the SOBC Howard Carter Award, recognizing coaches who provide athletes with exceptional training and preparation, Scott speaks powerfully about all that Special Olympics athletes have meant to him.
“Our athletes are probably the best people I’ve met in my life,” he said. “They’re happy people and they’re wonderful people, and they have so much to share with everyone. Special Olympics athletes ground me when I’m stressed out. … The more they’re involved in everyone’s lives, the better everyone’s lives are.”
Among Scott’s other highlights of the 2013 Special Olympics World Games experience was watching alpine skier Michael Gilbert of St-Donat, Que., repeat as a winner of three World Games gold medals, a feat he also accomplished in the 2009 World Games in Boise, Idaho, and in the 2005 World Games in Nagano, Japan.
Another rewarding moment was watching snowshoeing athlete Hazen Meade of Campbell River at the Games Closing Ceremony, because Meade worked so hard and changed so much through the experience and the four-year process of making it to the Games.
“That changed his life, those Games, and that’s what we’re there for,” Scott said.
The athletes had a long road to the Games and worked hard to earn the right to represent their country, as they had to progress through regional, provincial, and national competitions to earn their berths.
Scott encourages new coaches to get involved with Special Olympics. SOBC Squamish currently offers youth programs for children with intellectual disabilities ages two to 11 on Sundays at Quest University. The swimming program on Fridays 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Brennan Park Recreation Centre began last Friday (March 8).
Athletes and volunteers looking to get involved may contact Rachel Borer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (604) 737-3125/1-888-854-2276 (toll-free).
Megan Grittani-Livingston, a former Whistler Question reporter, is communications manager with Special Olympics B.C. and served as a communications liaison for at the World Games for Special Olympics Team Canada.