Thomasina Payne, 20, recently returned from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece with two gold medals in hand.
“Every time she ran faster and faster and beat her preliminary times, so that was great,” said Marie Payne, Thomasina’s mother.
Thomasina has been involved in the intensive training now for seven years and has been to the provincial games in St. Albert as well as last year’s national games in London, Ontario.
“I was surprised when I took home gold because most of the time I wasn’t the fastest in my heat,” said Thomasina. Even though she trained three times a week with her coach of seven years, she still said she was in awe of her medals and very happy to bring them home.
“I hoped to at least get a medal; I didn’t expect this at all.”
The World Summer Games ran from June 25th to July 4th but the athletes arrived four days early for last-minute training, acclimatization and opening ceremonies.
“The Island of Rhodes was the host for about 2,000 athletes from all over, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand,” said Thomasina.
Including her two gold medals, one in the 3,000 meter and another in the 1,500 meter races, Thomasina also helped the four-person relay team bring back a fourth place finish.
“It was kind of a relief because it’s been four years building up to it and we got her that far and then it was up to her to see what she could do,” said Marie, adding that the family was a little bit anxious waiting because they didn’t see Thomasina for a week. During the opening ceremonies they were looking to spot her amongst the other athletes.
“It was a cool experience to be over in Greece and walk into the stadium. It was neat because it was one of the original stadiums built,” said Thomasina.
Marie explained that the stadium apparently had history dating back to 500 B.C. and Thomasina said it had been altered to accommodate a track set up.
Being nervous is a part of every athlete’s career, but Thomasina said she was more nervous for the preliminary races than the finals.
“I knew if I did good it was okay, but if I did great then I might be in one of the faster heats. I wasn’t too bad in the preliminaries,” said Thomasina.
Having done “not too bad” in the preliminaries lined Thomasina up for her two gold medal finishes with times of 6:19:80 in the 1,500 meter race and 14:00:76 in the 3,000 meter race.
Marie said Thomasina’s involvement in athletics began when the Western Finals for curling were held in Red Deer and the family watched.
“We thought that might be a good thing to go to and the coach for that is also the coach for track, so she kind of recruited her,” said Marie.
Thomasina’s sister, Chantal, is also involved in curling and track and brought home two silver medals from China in 2007. The girls are twins.
“I like running and I like the long distance because it’s a bit more fun to do. It’s not such a fast race, you can make your moves later in the race and not go out as fast,” said Thomasina.
Meanwhile, she plans to take the next four years in stride and find out where the next Olympics will be held before deciding whether or not she will participate.
“I’d like to see if they’re going to be somewhere I haven’t been before,” she said. “It would be nice if it was an English speaking country, so they’re easier to understand.”