Fort McMurray Special Olympians bring home medals from national competition

This was the first time Special Olympics Wood Buffalo sent athletes to compete nationally after winning medals last year at provincials.

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Five Special Olympic athletes have returned to Fort McMurray with eight medals after competing in five-pin bowling at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Calgary.

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The five local athletes won a bronze medal in the team category. A bronze, silver and gold medal were won by three athletes in the individual categories. This was the first time Special Olympics Wood Buffalo sent athletes to compete nationally after winning medals last year at provincials in Strathcona County.

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“Our athletes have worked so hard. They have taken no time off. Anytime we ask if they want a break, they said no. They practiced and trained for a year without complaint and put the work in,” said Christal Ford-Grant, chair of Special Olympics Wood Buffalo, in an interview.

“We talked to the athletes and told them to take in the experience, we may or may not get a medal. We’re going up against the best of the best in Canada. That’s what we were doing and we won,” she said. “They have been ecstatic. It was a huge experience for them they’ve never had before.”

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Ford-Grant says their provincial and national success has been a sudden surprise. Special Olympics Wood Buffalo closed in 2011 when the only bowling alley in Fort McMurray shut down.

Bowling is one of the group’s most popular sports. When it ended, the rest of Special Olympics Wood Buffalo eventually closed, too. The opening of The Alley brought a renewed interest in relaunching Special Olympics. A new board was formed in January 2020, but the group went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group travelled to provincials in February 2023, about six months after athletes resumed training. Every athlete returned home with gold, silver and bronze medals in bowling and floor hockey. This left Ford-Grant astounded.

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“We were just kind of shocked and flabbergasted at how well we did considering we had only been going for six months,” she said. “It was quite an accomplishment to be selected to represent Alberta nationally considering it hadn’t been a full year of running when that happened.”

Ford-Grant says she hopes to send teams to compete in golf and 10-pin bowling at next year’s summer games. The organization’s leadership also hopes to include more sports, although this is dependent on volunteers. Volunteers and sponsors can contact Ford-Grant at [email protected].

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