Special Olympics athletes heading to Antigonish, Nova Scotia later this month
By Pat Payton
ANTIGONISH, N.S. – Mike Hitchcock hopes to celebrate his 27th birthday on Aug. 3 with a medal here at the 2018 Special Olympics Canada (SOC) Summer Games.
Hitchcock and fellow St. Marys resident Mae Vigneux are members of Team Ontario, who will compete at the SOC national championships, July 31-Aug. 4.
Both are excited young athletes. “Just 20 days to go,” Hitchcock noted when interviewed by the Independent recently. “That’s the goal, to medal on my birthday,” he said with a big smile.
Hitchcock and Vigneux earned their spots on the Ontario squad after combining to win seven medals at the 2017 Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) Summer Games in Peel Region last July.
Vigneux, 13, competed in athletics and medalled in all six of her events at Terry Fox Stadium in Brampton. She won gold in the 800-metre and 1,500-metre races and the standing long jump, and earned silver in shot put, the 400-metre race and 4X400-metre relay.
Hitchcock won gold in golf, his favourite sport. He shot 64 on the first nine holes at the challenging Caledon Golf and Country Club, and followed that up with a 54 the next day. His two-day total of 118 was four shots better than the next competitor in the men’s 4th division.
Worked hard preparing
Hitchcock and Vigneux have worked hard preparing for this year’s Canada Games. Both have been taking part in Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) sponsored weekend training camps this summer.
Vigneux trained with the DCVI track and field team in the spring, as well as taking part in the Stratford and Area Special Olympics track and field program this summer.
She will compete in all six of her events in Antigonish. “I’ve been doing lots of training in Stratford, running, shot put and long jump,” she said.
Running is Vigneux’s favourite sport, particularly the 1,500 metres. “Most definitely,” she said. “You have to push yourself and train hard.”
Vigneux, who begins Grade 9 studies at DCVI in the fall, also hopes to medal at the Games. But it’s not her first priority. “I just want to focus on doing my best in each event,” she said, adding that winning medals would be a bonus.
Hitchcock trained on the golf simulator at the Stratford Country Club over the winter months under the watchful eye of coach Chris Dickenson. He also participated in the local Special Olympics golf program as well as two Golf Canada events (Future Links and David Hearn). One was a two-day camp held just outside of Toronto.
Hitchcock is a member at St. Marys Golf and Country Club and is a regular on the course and driving range. He also works at the club as an outdoor maintenance man.
Gary Geddes, of London, will caddy for Hitchcock at the Summer Games. After a practice round, Hitchcock and fellow competitors will play three rounds that count at the Antigonish G&CC. The third and final round is Aug. 3.
Hitchcock says staying calm and relaxed helps him strike the ball better.
“I like golf because it’s a relaxing sport,” he said. “If you have a bad shot, don’t worry about it, just make sure you hit a good second shot. I will be nervous, but after the first shot I just want to hit it down the fairway and go from there.”
Both Hitchcock and Vigneux will be flying to the Maritimes with their Team Ontario teammates.
There are nine sports featured at the 2018 Canada Summer Games: athletics, basketball, bocce, golf, rhythmic gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball and swimming.
It’s expected that over 3,000 spectators will be on site to experience the Games, in addition to over 900 athletes, 290 coaches, officials and mission staff, and 600 volunteers.
–After the Games, both Hitchcock and Vigneux are staying in the Maritimes for a few days and making it a holiday with family members. Mike and about a dozen family members, including his parents Larry and Marie, will be travelling to P.E.I. where he also hopes to play a few rounds of golf. Making the trip to the East Coast to watch Mae compete will be her aunt Annette Vigneux.
–Mike Hitchcock said he wanted to thank the people and businesses who donated towards his trip to the Summer Games, including Stonetown Physiotherapy. He also wanted to thank the St. Marys G&CC for allowing him to practice and improve his golf game.
–During the winter months, Hitchcock is a bench assistant with the Jr. ‘B’ Lincolns hockey team.
Special Olympics notebook
Special Olympics Ontario (SOO), Stratford and Area is a volunteer-based organization which offers year-round sport training and competition opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
–Jane Larkworthy, Stratford and Area community coordinator and registrar, said volunteers are key and help keep the programs running, and there’s always a need for more help.
Coaches and managers are needed for all sports. Anyone who is interested in volunteering is asked to contact volunteer coordinator Shari (519-276-0383) or Jane (519-271-1422).
–SOO’s Provincial Games run on a four-year cycle, with Summer Games taking place in the odd numbered years of 2017, 2021, etc. Winter Games also run on odd numbered years, alternating with Summer games every two years. Spring Games run on even numbered years, every four years.
–SOO athletes qualify for Provincial Games through competitions called ‘Provincial Qualifiers’ (PQs). These competitions are held throughout Ontario, with communities being grouped into (unique to each sport) Conferences based on the geographic distribution of those particular sport programs.
–Special Olympics Canada (SOC) National Games run every two years and alternate between (SOC’s) two sport seasons (i.e., summer and winter). Summer Games take place every four years on even years (e.g., 2018, 2022, etc.).
–Based on results from the 2018 SOC Summer Games, some athletes will be identified to advance to the 2019 World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE in March of 2019 as members of Team Canada.