Thank you to our awesome host Rob Williams, our honorable guests and dignitaries, Special Olympics champion presenters, sponsors, volunteers, and all of you for joining us! Congratulations again to all of our winners!
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Meghan Sander (EDMONTON)
Meghan Sander has been an Athletics athlete with SOA-Edmonton for the past 15 years. She has achieved exceptional status when it comes to all the qualities it takes to be both a successful athlete and teammate/person. She has an unwavering dedication to her sport and fitness. She trains 12 months a year, with little guidance, and needs no motivation based on her personal goals of excellence.
Meghan has become a quiet yet fierce leader amongst our group. She quietly leads with her voice but more importantly, she leads by example with an amazing work ethic and commitment to "be her best" each and every day. Her self-discipline is off the charts, as she trains several days a week on her own. She has truly blossomed into a young woman with an amazing heart and continually puts the needs of others in front of her own.
She demonstrates respect to her peers and coaches and never wavers. She always makes time to help her teammates and continually provides words of encouragement and care. She's tenacious in her approach to her sport. Never quits, and always strives to succeed! She truly is a champion of life!
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: SHANE STEWART (BOW VALLEY)
Shane Stewart has been a Special Olympics athlete for 14 years and in this time has achieved some incredible things. He participates in four sports: 5-pin bowling, golf, cross country skiing, and athletics training six days per week including 3 times per week with a personal trainer. He watches his diet and eats healthy. He roller-skis, runs, bikes, golfs, and weight trains during the off-season to keep up his training for skiing, which he trains for 3-5 times per week during the winter months.
One of the biggest ways Shane continues to improve his personal bests for cross country skiing is through cross-seasonal training: both through his involvement in athletics, but also his commitment to roller skiing in the summer. Shane has frequently acted as an ambassador for Special Olympics with the media. This has allowed him to increase his communication skills while relating his Special Olympics experiences to reporters locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Special Olympics has given him the chance to travel across Canada and to three continents in competitions.
He has excelled in competition attending three World Games (Austria, Pyeongchang, and Idaho) earning three golds in Pyeongchang and Idaho and three Bronzes in Austria. He recently competed at the SOC National Games in Thunder Bay 2020 where he earned another three bronze medals and one silver.
ATHLETE SPIRIT AWARD: TORYN HOLDEN (RED DEER)
For 20 years Toryn Holden has continued to display his dedication, enthusiasm, and support for others.
He is always so supportive of other athletes and you can feel his enthusiasm to hang out with friends, participate in sports, and give his best effort every time.
By giving 100 per cent of his energy to everything he does, Toryn inspires other athletes to be their best.
FEMALE COACH OF THE YEAR: Barb Prystai (Calgary)
For 22 years Barb has been at the helm of the figure skating program in Calgary. She has been the Head Coach for Team Alberta for every Winter Nationals since 2004 (5 times total) and coached on Team Canada in 2013. Barb goes above and beyond what is asked of her with a high level of commitment, enthusiasm, and compassion. She is always available to speak with volunteers, coaches, athletes, and families about anything from development to goal-setting, training, growth, or anything she can do to help.
Barb takes pride in all of her skaters and works hard to make sure they are achieving to their highest level. She takes the time to work individually with her skaters as well as makes sure that her coaches are properly instructing the girls. There are lots of smiles, high fives, and praise that happen out at her program.
Barb works hard and keeps herself up to date on the latest techniques and training in order to make her athletes the best they can be. She is always punctual, treats others with respect, and is willing to do everything she can to make sure her athletes are prepared. Barb trains, maintains a healthy diet and expects her athletes to do the same.
Barb holds a high standard for herself and her team when competing. They are punctual, respectful of the other teams and their space, but also willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. She is cordial with all volunteers, officials, and judges and is willing to provide assistance for any technical difficulties that arise. Athletes from other provinces would frequently come up to Barb and ask her how they thought they had improved since the last time she saw them and Barb would stand and cheer for anyone from any province.
MALE COACH OF THE YEAR: RYAN Cole
For 4 years Ryan Cole has been an incredible coach for the softball and floor hockey programs in St. Albert. This past year, Ryan was super dedicated to the success of the Team Alberta Wolfpack floor hockey squad; challenging his players to eat well, practice hard and participate in weekly cardio sessions that were not required, but every athlete chose to attend. They trained for Heroes Running for Heroes and LETR fundraiser where they ran to raise funds and improve their endurance. He wants the athletes to strive for their personal best and encourages them to try no matter what. He helps the athletes to understand the sport which helps them develop a love for it. He is friendly and fun and the athletes love him.
Ryan is a positive role model in so many ways. He is also a police officer and ensures that the athletes are healthy and safe. He is positive and happy and encouraging to all athletes. He holds himself in a respectful manner and the athletes just adore him. Ryan is someone who leads by example and that leadership starts with respect for those around him. He expects his athletes to play fair and be respectful of their opponents. Ryan never complains about referees or reacts in a negative way that could affect his players. His team were strong fans in the stands at other sports when they could not play and was a strong proponent in helping the team unify under the Wolfpack symbol.
TEAM OF THE YEAR: Calgary Storm
Athletes: Chelsey Adams, Alex Arthur, David Davidson, Chris Demchuk, Paul Erickson, Keith Herrington, John Horne, Leonka Kaluha, Jan Kryzan, Andrew Turnbull, Justin Nott, Hank Round, Jodi Tanigami, Darby Taylor
Coaches: Joan Turnbull (Head Coach), Caitlyn Burns, Dave Taylor
The Calgary floor hockey team has worked for many years together to gel as a team and were able to win a gold medal at the SOA Winter Games 2019. While they did not get a chance to move on, they were full of smiles and excitement for their accomplishments. Leading by example is always a positive trait and their ability to smile and have fun no matter the circumstances defines this squad. This group is ready to help with setup and takedown during the season. Win or lose, the Calgary Storm is always ready to shake hands and wish their opponents good luck and a job well done. They are polite and respectful of the refs in their games, and listen intently to their coaches.
VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP AWARD: Jodi Flanagan
Jodi has been involved in Special Olympics for over 30 years and has been critical to the growth of the movement here in Alberta. Jodi acted as the Chef for Team Alberta in both 2010 and 2019. For the most recent team Jodi went above and beyond in her role as Chef, not only providing vision and leadership, but also taking on key operational tasks. The role of Chef for a volunteer is an overwhelming task. When you add to the equation the loss of the two key sport staff who held the organization's Team AB knowledge, it would have been understandable for Jodi to take a step back. Jodi did not skip a beat, she loved the team, athletes and culture that had been built. She doesn’t know quit, so instead of stepping back she doubled down on her commitment. She spent hundreds of hours on every aspect of the team from management, to coach development, to training camps, to unifying the team under the Wolfpack moniker. She was able to create an unforgettable Games experience for everyone involved and exemplified the spirit of the Special Olympics movement as a representative for our organization at Nationals.
Her contributions to sport, not only on the provincial level, but across the country is undeniable. She began facilitating National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) courses in 1997 and helping guide the development of coaching programs, and coaches have become a passion for Jodi. Her involvement has been instrumental in improving coach development across the country not only through her role as master learning facilitator but also playing a key role in developing the NCCP coach course curriculum. As a volunteer Jodi put in countless hours to ensure the development of the new course that would have the greatest impact for coaches across the country.
Jodi exemplifies the values, spirit and philosophy of Special Olympics always in her personal and professional life. She believes in Special Olympics and all that it offers our athletes. Whether in providing training to allow for growth or at a Games experience where athletes can see the results of their hard work, but most of all, it is learning the life skills that give our athletes the values that they use in their daily lives. Jodi is improving the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities every day.
RISING STAR VOLUNTEER AWARD: Erica Gislason (st. Albert)
Erica Gislason is someone that has never said no to helping out or new challenges. She joined the St. Albert affiliate board in 2018 and has quickly started taking on various roles including being the registrar and was heavily involved in the transition to online registrations.
She is now helping with the local ALIC and is a great role model for the athletes. Erica is always willing to help out with events and even has used their employment to help support by donating water to various events. She is always coming up with new ideas for how to promote things for the athletes or make sure that they feel recognized.
LETR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS AWARD: Paul Manuel (Calgary)
Paul is the founding member of the current AB LETR, having re-established the Provincial program in 2002. He was the Provincial Director from 2002 - 2007, and continued to sit on the AB LETR Executive or Ops Committee as the Past Director until 2018. In January 2018, Paul returned to the Operations Committee as the Provincial Director until December 2019. Currently Paul sits on the Operations Committee as the Past Director and is a mentor to the current Provincial Director.
From 2007 until 2016 Paul was the elected Region XI (Canada) Coordinator on the LETR International Executive Counsel. He spent many volunteer hours advancing LETR Nationally and Internationally in that role and sat as the Regional Coordinators Committee Chair. Paul was also a member of the International Council's Final Leg Committee, which is responsible for the organization and execution of the World Games Final Leg Torch Run every two years.
From 2007 until 2019 Paul and his wife spent endless hours selling Harley Flame of Hope Raffle tickets at trade shows throughout Alberta. Paul has been the event lead for several events in the Calgary region and has been integral at supporting events throughout the province. Everywhere Paul goes he is promoting LETR and the great work they do for Special Olympics, recruiting volunteers along the way. He is and always has been one of Alberta LETR strongest supporters.
LETR COMMUNITY SPIRIT AWARD: Medicine Hat
In 2017, the Medicine Hat affiliate partnered with Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Alberta to hold their inaugural Polar Plunge event. This event was a springboard to raise awareness and funds for the 2017 Special Olympics Alberta summer games held in Medicine Hat. Since that time, the affiliate has partnered with LETR to hold the Polar Plunge annually. In 2019 athletes and volunteers from the Medicine Hat affiliate joined forces with LETR to hold their first Cops, Pops & Pizza at Boston Pizza. No matter what the task is, big or small, they are always willing to help out.
Even though the 2020 Medicine Hat Polar Plunge had to be cancelled due to Covid, we know they will be back out as soon as possible. Standing alongside our law enforcement members to bring awareness and raise funds to support their athletes. Thank you to the Medicine Hat affiliate for their incredible partnership with LETR.
UNIFIED SCHOOL AWARD: Metro Athletics
The Metro Athletics Association is a long-time supporter of Unified Sports in Alberta. Spearheaded by Shawn Shepherd, Metro held their first Unified Jamboree in 2018. This was a multi-sport event with basketball, bean bag toss, and bocce. This event has become a mainstay in the Metro Athletics Association, and they have since added in an annual Unified Bocce event. Hundreds of students take part in their events every year and high schools like Archbishop O’Leary, Bev Facey, and Bellerose have all acted as hosts to these events.
Shawn takes care to make sure that all athletes are able to participate to their fullest at Metro Unified events by incorporating both recreational and competitive streams at the Unified Jamboree.
Metro Athletics has set an example for high school sports associations across the country for both the quality of events that they host, and for how they’ve included Unified Sports into their existing high school sports seasons.
MURRAY KOCH YOUTH DEVELOPMENT AWARD and MDA Community Leadership Award: Grande Prairie
The Grande Prairie Affiliate is made up of a hard working and dedicated of volunteers and athletes.
They continually strive to improve the quality of their programs and expanding their reach adding a new young athlete program to provide opportunities to a younger age group. Focusing on quality saw the affiliate increase their number of athletes by 10%.
Although almost five hours from the closest program they ensure they provide their athlete with competitive opportunities and make the most of their experience within their own community.
Grande Prairies was very active during the Week of Inclusion sharing many great photos of athletes with their Choose to Include signs. It was a big year for the community as they also supported eight athletes and two coaches to be part of Team Alberta that competed at the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay.