She has experienced immeasurable glory and painful defeat on the world’s stage, but Olympic figure skating gold medalist Jamie Salé said Alberta’s Special Olympics athletes helped teach her the true meaning of sport.
Salé was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s Special Olympics Red Deer Celebrity Breakfast at Westerner Park.
“(Special athletes) are a wonderful inspiration to all of us . . . I see the smile on their faces and the joy they get playing their sports, and it just fills me up, I love it,” Salé said to the audience of several hundred.
The 34-year-old competed in the 1994 and 2002 Olympic Winter Games, winning a gold medal in pairs figure skating at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City.
Her father Gene Salé coaches Special Olympics curling and softball teams in Central Alberta.
Salé told the audience she was a daredevil as a child and was also very confident — she would often work on her autograph during school so “One day, when I was famous, I’d have it perfected.”
But over the years, her strong determination would be tested, Salé said.
She described the immense blow to her ego in falling four or five times during one skating routine, and the anguish she felt finishing in last place at several competitions.
She thanked her coaches, the community, and her family for supporting her in the bad times as well as the good, and said the behind-the-scenes people who helped make her a champion can’t be praised enough.
Salé said experiencing the full spectrum of winning and losing gives her a better appreciation for Special Olympics athletes, who are a perfect example of the true essence of competition, she believes.
“I’m not a quitter and I hate losing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a good sportsman or a poor loser,” Salé said.
“It is important to wish your competitors well and be happy for their successes, and all of you guys in this room know what that’s all about, and I see it every time I come out and watch you.”
Special Olympics Red Deer chairman Jerry Tennant said events like the breakfast help the organization raise the $100,000 program budget needed each year, and keeps the cost of competing to a minimum for the athletes. Tennant also heralded the success of Red Deer’s Special Olympics athletes.
“Last February, we sent two curling teams and a floor hockey team to the Special Olympic Provincial Games, held in Leduc and Edmonton. All three teams came back home with gold medals,” Tennant said.
In addition, one of the curling teams and the floor hockey team have been chosen to represent the province at the Canadian Special Olympic Games in St. Albert in February 2012. From there, the Red Deer squads could go on to represent Canada at the World Special Olympic Games in South Korea in 2013, Tennant added.