With a focus on inspiring local athletes and residents alike, the annual Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast was held Tuesday at the Harvest Centre. Guest speakers this year included David Pelletier, a three-time Canadian Champion, World Champion, Grand-Prix Final Champion and Olympic gold medalist; and Red Deer’s own Jocelyn Peterman, a Canadian Junior Curling champion.
Pelletier spoke about his journey to Olympic gold, pointing out that his mom had him and his brothers in figure skating from an early age – and it wasn’t always to his liking.
“We hear often that sports is a metaphor for life – that it reinforces personal characteristics like responsibility, courage, teamwork, persistence, humility, mental focus, commitment and self-discipline,” he said, prior to sharing a bit about his own story. “There was nothing attractive in the eyes of a young man doing figure skating at a young age.”
But once he witnessed the magic of pairs during the Calgary winter Olympics in 1988, he was sold.
“I said to my mom, if you want me to stick with this sport, you’ve got to let me try pairs figure skating,” he said.
He found a partner an hour away, but that meant he had to move an hour away at just 12 years of age. The years passed and his skills flourished, even amidst the challenges of being away from family at such a young age.
“I also learned to be courageous. Being a male figure skater, if that’s not enough to make you courageous, I don’t know what is – wearing velvet pants in front of the public,” he laughed.
But his focus was on moving forward, and increasingly stepping out of his comfort zone.
Ultimately, he joined forces with Jamie Sale and the two went on to snap up Olympic gold during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
“To step on the ice in front of these people, and you have to convince these nine judges that today you are the best. It takes a lot of courage, and it requires teamwork,” he said, adding that the differences amongst a team are really its strengths and what can lead to greatness. “Nobody accomplishes anything by themselves anyways.”
There are sacrifices. “The 6 a.m. training sessions. Who you hang out with; how you manage your energy. It’s all about commitment and self-discipline,” he said.
“And that’s what it all taught me. Today, I still use the abilities of being committed to a task and making sure that I do everything possible to accomplish it the best I can.”
These days, Pelletier has worked as a power skating coach with several professional and junior athletes as well as members of the Canadian National Women’s team.
He begins his second season with the Edmonton Oilers as the club’s skating coach – he worked with the team’s Senior Director of Player Development Rick Carriere as well as the Oilers’ management team to help players of all levels.
Sale, director of Special Olympics Canada, was also onhand to talk about the organization itself.
“Special Olympics is a strong movement across Canada,” she said. “Committed to growing and enriching the lives of more athletes, we now have 40,000 athletes and 19 volunteers nationally.
“In 2018 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary as a global movement. We are excited about celebrating with programs around the globe in recognizing how far we have come and looking forward to continued growth and development for the future,” she said, adding that community programs are the heart of Special Olympics Canada.
Jerry Tennant, chair of the Special Olympics Red Deer, expressed his gratitude for the continued support from the sponsors and the community at large for the annual breakfast. This year marks the 10th event.
“We continue to grow, and today we have 300 individuals involved as athletes in our program,” he said, adding they are in 12 sports. Next year, Red Deer athletes will compete at the Provincial Summer Games in Medicine Hat with the goal of moving to the Canadian Championships in 2018 and the Worlds in 2019.
Peterman talked about her experiences so far in her athletic career from an early introduction to curling by her family to today – she is now training to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in curling.