Two Red Deer athletes had the opportunity of a lifetime as they ventured to the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Los Angeles over the span of seven days from July 25th to Aug. 2nd.
Elliott Moskowy, 22, and Carlos Villafuerte, 20, were two of 13 members of Team Canada from Alberta, with 164 athletes representing the country in total.
The 2015 World Games hosted 7,000 athletes from 177 countries and happens only once every four years.
The two Red Deer athletes had a long four years of competing prior to the events in order to gain a spot on Team Canada, but the fortunate pair not only secured their spots in L.A., they both returned home with a number of medals.
“Both of the athletes did outstanding,” said Special Olympics Team Canada Chef de Mission, Johnny Byrne.
Villafuerte, who was competing in 10-pin bowling earned two silver medals in bowling doubles and bowling team as well as a seventh place finish in bowling singles.
“Carlos really kicked the week off for us with all of our bowling teams medaling and he really bowled outstanding,” he said.
“They track the amount of family and friends present registered to each athlete and Carlos had 22 family members present who came from both Red Deer and South America where his family is from to watch him – so his support network was huge.”
Byrne said a highlight for Villafuerte was meeting the Peru National team in which he had the chance to tell them about his home town and speak some of his language of origin with them.
Moskowy found his stride in the pool and brought home three gold medals in 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, and 4×100 medley relay as well as silver in the 100m IM.
“Elliott’s week in the pool was beyond words,” said Byrne on the local athlete’s performance. “His strength in the water was exceptional and he was only a hundredth of a second away from having that fourth gold medal.
“He was definitely Team Canada’s top performer in the pool – it was quite a performance that’s for sure.”
Moskowy competed against a wide range of international athletes in order to earn his gold with swimming events seeing the largest span of over 100 countries competing.
In order to qualify for the games, both Moskowy and Villafuerte needed to attend the Alberta Special Olympics Summer Games held in 2013 in Red Deer. This gained the pair a spot on Team Alberta, which then sent them to Vancouver last summer to compete in the Canada Summer Games.
Following outstanding performances in Vancouver the two were then granted spots on Team Canada and the chance to compete in L.A.
A highlight for Team Canada during the open ceremonies in L.A. was a surprise visit from Canadian pop icon Justin Bieber, who joined the team for their walk into the games and began a chant of ‘Go Canada! Go!’ to which Byrne said went miles towards making it an unforgettable experience for the 164 athletes around him.
“Bieber gave us a surprise visit and marched alongside the athletes from Team Canada,” said Byrne. “He spent as much time with athletes as he could and for a lot of our athletes it was one of the memories they’re going to hang onto for a long time.”
Moskowy and Villafuerte will now be enjoying a well earned month’s rest before returning to the Red Deer Special Olympics programs and both plan to continue with competing later this year.
“The opportunity to represent Canada was huge for all of our athletes and L.A. definitely made a lasting mark on us as a team,” said Byrne. “We’ve been building this team over the last year when those athletes were selected and we couldn’t have asked for a better group of ambassadors.”