Six Penticton athletes walked through the arrivals door at Penticton Airport to a loud reception Monday night.
Jake Huff, Chad Conlon, Lynden Hicks, Margaret Burnell, Kevin Ellis and Avery Newton wore smiles as bright as the medals they won during the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles held July 25 to Aug. 2. The athletes’ family members and volunteers from Special Olympics B.C. awaited their arrival and gave them a cheer and applause.
“I feel really happy that they came to support us,” said Huff, donning his Team Canada outfit. “They were very proud of us. I’m very proud of everybody.”
Newton had four medals (two gold, two silver) hanging from her neck. She set a personal best time in the 100 metre freestyle swim, in which she earned a silver medal.
“I had butterflies in my stomach the entire time,” she said. “I was just happy. I didn’t even know that I was going to bring medals home.”
Burnell was Canada’s eldest member at 69 and part of the first team to represent Canada in bocce at the World Games. She returned with two bronze medals in team play and doubles with Ellis.
“I’m so happy I got those,” said Burnell, adding that the experience was fun. “We just had a good time.”
Among the family waiting was Lynden Hicks’ mom Gloria and her niece. Hicks is proud of her son and it was hard for her not to be in L.A. as she has always gone to his competitions. Traveling to the Games was too costly for her so she watched on TV, which was still hard for her. She was overjoyed about seeing her son win gold in singles play and bronze in team action.
“Phenomenal,” she said with a big smile. “I think it’s such an opportunity. It’s amazing that they can go this far and do as well as they do. We gotta be proud of them.”
Lynden felt nervous during play, but said he was able to pull through.
“They were tough. It was tough for me for singles and doubles. Other teams were harder. The U.S. was a hard one to beat for doubles, same as Jamaica. We played our best,” he said.
Lynden added, “It’s awesome” to be the first bocce team to return with medals.
“I loved it,” he said.
Ellis, a spare for the bocce team, loved the experience. Most of all, he was honored to represent Canada.
Huff was the lone bowler and captured gold in the team event, silver in singles and placed fourth, receiving a ribbon, in doubles action.
“It was one huge, great, amazing experience,” he said. “It was awesome to be part of Team Canada. It’s just one of the most amazing experiences I will ever have.”
Facing the best bowlers wasn’t an easy task said Huff.
“There were other bowlers out there that were awesome. Some of them would bowl seven strikes in a row,” he said. “I had a great challenge ahead of me.”
Amanda Schleppe, who stayed in L.A. with family, won a gold medal in the 50-m backstroke, silver in the 4×50-m freestyle relay with Newton and bronze in the 50-m breast stroke.
The Games had 7,000 athletes competing from 177 countries. Overall, Canada won 144 medals, 71 gold, 47 silver and 26 bronze.