KAMLOOPS — 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics, a program meant to promote an active lifestyle through sport for those with intellectual disabilities. This year, a team with a Kamloops connection took part at the National Special Olympics Games Basketball tournament, travelling clear across the country to Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
They left with dreams of glory - they returned with Gold around their necks to a heroes welcome on Sunday, as a family and friends gathered at Fulton Field with signs and balloons, welcoming the National Champion Thompson-Okanagan Ogopogos Special Olympics basketball team home Sunday afternoon.
“We played the top 2 ‘A’ teams, which was really hard, but we pushed through them,” Tyrine Flukinger recalled, fresh off the plane from the games. “We got into our real [pool play] games and won all four. So… we’re the top in Canada.”
Athletes with intellectual disabilities from all over the region made up the team that travelled to Nova Scotia for the National Games earlier this month. For Flukinger, it was a fun week of getting to know new friends while working together out on the basketball court.
“It was only our fourth game playing together like we’re all from the Okanagan so it was really cool. All the teamwork. We just pushed and pushed,” Flukinger told CFJC Today. “There were injuries, but we got back up. We just pushed and pushed to get gold, and we came home with the gold.”
Leah Briault was the team’s head coach. She says watching her team come together over the course of the tournament was an incredible experience.
“Watching them embrace new friends, a new community, be scared and anxious at the same time as being so brave,” Briault said. “Everyday they got more comfortable with each other, they were gelling more as a team.”
After winning nationals, the team now waits to see if they’ll be selected to represent Canada at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
“We’ll find out pretty soon, because it’s in March 2019,” Briault says. “We’ve done our best, we have a shot, and it’s up to the organizing committee and the people who crunch the numbers.”
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