Over the weekend, Strathcona County played host to the 2023 Special Olympics Alberta Winter Games, where more than 1,200 athletes, staff, and volunteers from across the province gathered in Sherwood Park, Ardrossan, and Edmonton for three days of sport and celebration. The games were held across five venues and showcased a range of events, including floor hockey, curling, figure skating, and speed skating.
In the months leading up to the games, St. Albert’s athletes were practicing once or twice per week and participating in competitions to sharpen their skills for the big event.
One standout participant was St. Albert native Declan Fawcett, who was named a Pembina Special Olympics Ambassador in the lead-up to the games. This prestigious title gave Fawcett the opportunity to promote community partnerships and raise awareness about the Special Olympics in advance of the competition.
“We went to the Games Committee meetings and gave our input from the standpoint of athletes,” said Fawcett. “They wanted to get our ideas.”
Fawcett, who competes in floor hockey, curling, and bowling, also represented his hometown at the 2019 Special Olympics in Calgary.
“It was lots of fun,” said Fawcett, who took home a bronze medal in floor hockey at this year’s games.
Fawcett, a Bellerose alumni, was joined over the weekend by his teammate Jake Weismantal, who has been playing floor hockey for eight years.
“I enjoyed playing for a medal, and I enjoyed seeing friends from other teams,” said Weismantal, adding that he appreciated the proximity of the event to his community. “It was nice to have friends and family able to come cheer us on.”
“I also want to give a special thanks to our coaches, Chelsee, Matt, Tina, and Jake, who have invested so much time this season,” he added.
Amanda Gossmann, another local athlete, won a gold medal in floor hockey, representing the camaraderie and inclusivity that are at the heart of the Special Olympics ethos.
“We won gold, but the best part of the weekend was spending time with my team,” said Gossmann. “Lots of people came to cheer, and our coaches are awesome.”
Weismantal and Fawcett benefited from the veteran coaching of Chelsee Pedwell, who is not only an active leader from the sidelines, but who also serves as the chair of the Special Olympics Alberta St. Albert affiliate, where she highlights the strong sense of community that drives the Special Olympics movement.
“I got involved about 16 years ago as an assistant coach, and as they say, the rest is history,” said Pedwell. “I’ve always enjoyed sports, and seeing what this organization represents made me want to be more involved.”
And while the games are confined to a single weekend, the Special Olympics as an institution provides a year-round opportunity for participants to flourish — both as athletes and as members of their community.
“Sports are known to have a positive impact on physical and mental health,” said Pedwell. “Special Olympics encourages athletes with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDDs) to compete at their own ability level through local programs. It allows athletes to work hard, make lasting friendships, and promote inclusion. Best of all, we have fun!“