Athletes on track for fun and competition

Special Olympians gather weekly at the Oak Bay High track

Volunteer Jean Tetarenko coaches athletes Lidia White and Mark Hamblett down the track at Oak Bay High while a crowd gathers early for the weekly practice of the Victoria Special Olympics team.

Monday huddles at the Oak Bay High track reach numbers well beyond the 55 registered athletes in Victoria Special Olympics’ track program.

Athletes in the program, those on the waitlist and volunteer coaches gather once a week for the spring program that covers the basics of track, running, throwing and jumping.

“Ultimately the goal is to be out and participating in sports,” said head coach Jean Tetarenko, of Central Saanich, in her six or seventh year of coaching. “It’s one of the things you come to practice and you get so much back. It’s genuine athletes who are here because they really love sport.”

Like many SOBC Victoria programs, it runs for 12 weeks, at least once a week for a minimum of one hour.

“We have athletes of all abilities training together. We develop programs that allow everybody to participate at their level,” Tetarenko said, gesturing to the rapidly growing group on the track. “Many of these athletes are in training for our regional qualifier meet June 18 in Nanaimo.”

The program highlights positives of sport, teamwork and support. Every athlete matters, whether they finish first or eighth, says Lidia White, who has a decade of experience in the athletic (track) program.

“I had been a part of the school teams and I wasn’t having positive experience,” she said. Her mom noticed and sought out the SOBC Victoria programming as a way to develop those positives. It worked.

“Every year I join I have a new interest, a new drive,” said White, a multi-sport athlete who has participated in Special Olympics swimming, softball, curling and more. “I like our little community, everybody is supportive. You have that sense of feeling supported.”

That support for each other doesn’t negate the competitive nature of the athletes and desire to improve.

“Really the emphasis is your personal best,” Tetarenko said.

Mark Hamblett, of Saanich, has nine years with the track club after testing the waters on advice from a friend.

“I quickly realized how much variety of opportunity there is in the organization. Sport is a huge part of my life,” Hamblett said. An official for hockey, baseball and recently lacrosse, his top competitive passions are speed skating and track.

“I’m an all-around athlete …. a year-round runner. if I don’t do something it doesn’t feel right,” he said. “The community is a very supportive community. It’s a healthy, competitive environment.”

High-level competitions also offer an expanded support network and challenge. This year he was selected to Team BC as a speed skater at the 2016 Winter National Games in Cornerbrook, Nfld. He medalled in all his events – a gold, a silver and two bronze.

“I know athletes now probably in almost every province,” Hamblett said. “It’s a big family.”

While the track program is full with 55 athletes and several on a waiting list, other programs are still accepting new athletes. In Victoria, 235 athletes are active in 21 programs in the 2015-2016 season. Learn more at victoriaspecialolympics.com.