Special Olympians get sneak peek

St. Albert’s Jamie King, who served as fifth for Team Koe at the 2010 World Curling Championships, gets a high-five from Team Alberta’s Michael Sugden. (GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader)

With the 2012 Special Olympics National Winter Games set to descend upon St. Albert in about six weeks, athletes from Team Alberta got a sneak peek at some of the venues — and tips from a few pros — this weekend.

A total of 78 athletes were in town to check out the venues and get their provincial team uniforms on Friday and Saturday, but the biggest thrill came for many of the Team Alberta curlers Saturday, as they were met at the St. Albert Curling Club by world-class players like Marc Kennedy, Scott Pfeifer, Blake MacDonald, Jamie King, Dave Nedohin and Don Bartlett.

“We were having a blast,” said Pfeifer, who grew up and started curling in St. Albert before winning four Briers and three world championships with skip Randy Ferbey. “Pretty much everything else we play in is very serious, so it’s always great to get out and enjoy the game again, and spend some time with great people.”

The curlers participated in a couple of games with the Special Olympics athletes before signing brooms and posing for photos. Kennedy even brought out the gold medal he won with the Kevin Martin rink at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver for a little inspiration.

Graham Kryzanowski, a Special Olympics curler from Red Deer who has family in St. Albert, said Saturday’s event only has him more excited for the actual games to kick off.

“I’m pretty excited. It was pretty neat meeting all these people and all these celebrities,” he said. “I’m really excited about our team; our team played really well.”

“I hope it’s good. I want to show them what Alberta’s about and St. Albert,” he added.

Also on hand for a curling lesson Saturday were St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, Minister of Culture and Community Services Heather Klimchuk, and Special Olympics Alberta board member and Olympic gold medal figure skater Jamie Salé.

Salé also visited Team Alberta figure skaters as they practiced at Servus Credit Union Place later Saturday afternoon.

Dan MacLennan, co-chair of the games organizing committee, said that seeing so many great athletes come out to lend their support to the games was amazing.

“We’re just overwhelmed by that type of support,” said MacLennan, who shares chairing duties with Randal Guy and Dan Roy. “Everyone who leaves here today will be talking about the games, and that makes us confident these are going to be the largest games we’ve ever had.”

He added that, as they hit the homestretch of preparations for the national games, they still need a few volunteers — mostly doctors and nurses — and are still lining up a few sponsors, but everything is going smoothly, and a buzz is building in the community.

“The City of St. Albert has been great; the mayor has been great,” he said. “Signs are going up at both ends of town right away, and it’s in the school newsletters, which is one of our target markets.”

Even though Pfeifer now lives in Sherwood Park, he said he still considers St. Albert his hometown, and he’s excited to see the city in the national spotlight.

“St. Albert is a world-class city, and there are just so many great events — not just curling events — that the city has hosted,” he said.

The 2012 Special Olympics National Winter Games take place in St. Albert and Jasper from Feb. 28 to March 3.

— GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader