Breaking Barriers on Ice: A Special Olympics Journey of Growth, Independence, and Community

I'm Tracey Thomas, and together with my husband Jeff and daughters Sarah and Rebecca, we've been on a journey that has defied our expectations, challenged our preconceptions, and filled our lives with profound joy. 

Our encounter with Special Olympics began when Sarah, our youngest, was transitioning out of therapy programs at Grandview Children's Centre. Seeking new opportunities for her, we discovered the learn-to-skate program. Initially hesitant and holding preconceived notions, I was pleasantly surprised to witness Sarah's remarkable journey on the ice. From tentative steps in borrowed skates to the sheer joy radiating from her as she made friends during a competition – it was a revelation. Special Olympics was breaking barriers, teaching us that potential knows no bounds. 

Sarah has recently been named part of the Team Ontario squad heading to the 2024 National Winter Games in Calgary. Being part of Team Ontario became more than just a representation; it became a testament to Sarah's progress. The experience, from training camps to preparing for competitions independently, has molded Sarah into a young woman filled with resilience, independence, and an unshakeable sense of pride in her accomplishments. Special Olympics has been a driving force behind her development, and I marvel at the person she's becoming. 

As a parent in the realm of figure skating, I've witnessed the unique dynamics of Team Ontario. It's a diverse mix of athletes and families, each with their own story. Connecting with parents from different clubs has been invaluable. Sharing experiences, learning from more seasoned families, and navigating this exceptional world together has added a layer of understanding and support that goes beyond the rink. I've always harboured a wish for a dedicated parent group, a space where we can gather in person or virtually. A place where information flows in real-time, questions find answers, and conversations happen seamlessly, creating a stronger bond among the parents who share this extraordinary journey. 

The competition following the training camp was more than just a showcase of skills; it was an opportunity for parents to come together. Conversations flowed, friendships deepened, and I eagerly anticipate spending time with these wonderful families in Calgary at the Figure Skating events. 

From a parent's lens, witnessing Sarah's growing responsibility for her training has been impactful. Independently attending off-ice and on-ice sessions, mastering transit routes, and tying her skates with newfound confidence are signs of her increasing independence and accomplishment. Setting goals, both on and off the ice, has been a journey of success, big and small. 

As we look ahead to the Nationals in Calgary, our hearts are filled with anticipation. It's not just a competition; it's a celebration of Sarah's growth, determination, and the profound impact Special Olympics has had on our lives. We owe so much to this incredible community, and we are eager to embrace the upcoming adventures together.