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Local Special Olympics athletes competing at nationals

Perth County athletes have qualified as part of curling, bowling and floor hockey teams
Special Olympics athletes from Stratford and Perth County have qualified for national events in Calgary. Pictured at the Stratford Country Club on Sunday afternoon, from left: Mike Hitchcock, Mike Kelemen, Jacob Ponsford, Meghan O'Donovan, Dylan Haynes, Curtis Bender and Tiffany Keller.

Calgary is calling for a group of local Special Olympics athletes, who have qualified for the Special Olympics Canada National Winter Games. 

Special Olympics Ontario - Stratford and Area are sending curlers Curtis Bender, Dylan Haynes, Meghan O’Donovan, Jacob Ponsford and skipper Tiffany Keller, one of six Ontario teams competing in Alberta. 

The curling competition has a total of 22 teams from 12 provinces/territories, 110 athletes and 44 coaches. 

"Everyone is very proud," said curling coach Dorie Woolrich, of Mitchell. 

Joining them is Mike Kelemen (5-pin bowling) and Mike Hitchcock, a Stratford resident (formerly of St. Marys) competing with a strong London Blazers floor hockey team. Team Ontario has 58 athletes competing in 5-pin bowling in Calgary and 57 in floor hockey. 

All of the competitions take place Feb. 27 to March 2. National Games occur every two years and rotate between summer and winter sports and they act as a qualifying event for Special Olympics Team Canada to take part in the Special Olympics World Games. 

Most of the athletes compete in several sports for Stratford and area and have become friends over the years. 

"We are kind of like a family," said Kelemen. "We know each other, we are close." 

"Basically we are a family of friends," added Keller. 

Some of the athletes have competed at the national level in past years.  O'Donovan competed in softball at the National Games in London in 2010. Keller was in Thunder Bay competing in 5-pin bowling in 2020 and Hitchcock competed on that 2010 softball team and again in golf at the 2018 national event in Nova Scotia. 

Other sports include Nordic and alpine skiing, figure skating, snowshoeing and speed skating. 

Jane Larkworthy, Special Olympics Ontario - Stratford and Area coordinator, and head curling coach of the local team, added: “All of our participating athletes are excited to be representing both our community and their home province, and are very proud to have been named to Team Ontario for these Games".  

Larkworthy said the local group are currently fundraising to offset costs through SOO's 'Become a fan' initiative, which helps eliminate financial barriers to competing.