ABU DHABI, UAE - The philosophy of Team Canada head basketball coach Camille Gardiner is simple: “let’s work hard, and have fun, but hard work comes first.” As the Canadian basketball team hit the court on Saturday at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, it was clear that the hard work was time well spent as they were put through their paces against Great Britain’s squad.
The basketball team is part of the 109-athlete strong Team Canada squad on the ground here in Abu Dhabi. In order to qualify to compete, each athlete or team had to undergo a qualification process last summer at the Special Olympics Canada National Summer Games in Antigonish, NS. The basketball team hails from Ontario and is part Mississauga Storm and part Special Olympics Guelph athletes.
In a supporting role we find about 150 family members who have made the trek to the United Arab Emirates, along with 30 coaches and 17 mission staff, many of whom were in the stands cheering on the players. The energy was loud and upbeat with Canadian fans bursting into chants of “Let’s Go Canada! Let’s Go!” The players seemed oblivious as they played their game with speed, intensity and a strong desire to win.
Michael Wright’s strategy on the field of play as part of this Canadian basketball squad is a sound one: “You have to be able to speak to your teammates and then make sure to stay focused.”
Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury is the Chair of Special Olympics Canada and understands just what the steps are in preparing the athletes. “The World Games experience is very similar to mainstream/generic sports. Training camps, opening and closing ceremonies, qualifying rounds, finals, medals. It’s all here.”
Coach Stephen Johnson was also on hand and offered, “work hard and give it your all and leave nothing on the court."
With the Canadian fans’ enthusiasm at a fevered pitch watching the game unfold on the court, “I am finding myself getting nervous for the athletes here (at the Games). It is very exciting and a peak of a career just to be here,” said Tewksbury.
For player Dillon Sirois, who plays centre and point guard, “I was nervous coming here. It’s a big stage. I have learned that if we can compete here, then we can compete anywhere, if we give it our all.”
Special Olympics Canada CEO Sharon Bollenbach watched excitedly from the stands. “The goals of Special Olympics Team Canada are for the athletes to achieve their personal best performance. To go out onto that field of play, give it their very best and have no regrets,” said Bollenbach.
As the Special Olympics motto goes; “let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Team Canada’s basketball team was the bravest in their attempt. With 14 seconds left to go, Canada sank a basket to come within a hair’s breadth of evening up the score.
Great Britain eked out a 22-21 win as the final buzzer rang. Team Canada plays Israel on Saturday and Coach Gardiner is already developing the strategy.
The Special Olympics World Games take place in Abu Dhabi, UAE from March 14-21, 2019. For complete details, visit www.abudhabi2019.org, www.tsn.ca and www.specialolympics.ca/games-events/go-canada-go.