THUNDER BAY – Marco Pauselli finally got the news for which he'd been waiting and hoping.
Fifteen local athletes, including Pauselli, on Thursday evening learned that they will be competing for Team Ontario in the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games, which will be held in Thunder Bay next February. Each of the athletes first competed at the regional level and earned their spots through their performances on the provincial stage earlier this year.
Despite an early summer heat wave outside, winter now can’t come soon for the athletes.
“Getting to this point, it was pretty challenging and having in the mind (wondering) if we made it or not made it, and then finally to know we made it. It’s like wow, it’s indescribable,” said Pauselli, who will be joined by curling teammates Mykola Cuthbertson, Janice Martinsen, Jordan Pretchuk and Rachel Warren on the ice at the Fort William Curling Club, after they earned their spot by claiming gold at the 2019 Ontario Winter Games in Sault Ste. Marie.
“With all the hard work and training we really did want it and I guess it paid off.”
Event organizers and local volunteers had the athletes come to the announcement, but kept them in the dark about why they were there. Each of the athletes was brought to the front of the room and was given an envelope, which they simultaneously opened to read that they will be competing in the games.
Alpine skier Amy Cizmar, who had previously competed in bowling when Thunder Bay hosted the 2011 provincial games, is happy to have another opportunity to perform in front of family and friends.
“So many friends here in Thunder Bay, nice of them to support me. My family has supported me 100 per cent,” she said.
The games, which will be held from Feb. 25-29, is expected to bring together more than 1,200 athletes, coaches and mission staff from across the country.
Denita Minoletti, the treasurer and event coordinator for Special Olympics Thunder Bay, said having the city host the event gave the athletes immense inspiration to earn their chance to compete.
“Our athletes have trained really hard to be where they are and we’re so proud of each and every one of them,” Minoletti said, adding this is the largest group of Thunder Bay athletes to be competing in the national games.
“It gives our community the opportunity to watch our athletes compete at that national level, which is very different than competing at regional and provincial levels. Being part of Team Ontario, you have to step your game up.”
Six of the eight sports will have Thunder Bay athletes in the mix, which Minoletti considers a significant achievement with many of the winter sports only having been offered locally within the last five years.
Julia Luck, Steven Mau and Joshua Tomagatick will be joined by two Kenora athletes in five-pin bowling, which will make its debut in the Canada Winter Games. Cizmar will be joined on the slopes by Carson Smith, while Justin Campbell and Noah Filice will compete in Nordic skiing. Snowshoeing will feature Gabrielle Hannusch and Tyler Rissanen. Claire Kachur will be in the speed skating field.
Pauselli, who was wearing his provincial gold medal, will now get a chance to add national hardware to his collection.
“I can try,” he said. “Can only try.”
Thunder Bay qualifying athletes:
- Five-pin bowling: Julia Luck, Steven Mau and Joshua Tomagatick
- Alpine skiing: Amy Cizmar and Carson Smith
- Curling: Mykola Cuthbertson, Janice Martinsen, Marco Mauselli, Jordan Pretchuk and Rachel Warren
- Nordic skiing: Justin Campbell and Noah Filice
- Snowshoeing: Gabrielle Hannusch and Tyler Rissanen
- Speed skating: Claire Kachur