Red Deer’s Thomasina Payne (middle) celebrates a medal win after a speed skating event. Payne was honoured by Special Olympics Canada as the Athlete of the Year for 2021. Payne has been involved in Special Olympics for the past 18 years and has competed in curling, athletics and speed skating. (Photo by Special Olympics Canada)

Red Deer’s Thomasina Payne (middle) celebrates a medal win after a speed skating event. Payne was honoured by Special Olympics Canada as the Athlete of the Year for 2021. Payne has been involved in Special Olympics for the past 18 years and has competed in curling, athletics and speed skating. (Photo by Special Olympics Canada)

Red Deer’s Thomasina Payne named Special Olympics Canada Athlete of the Year

Red Deer’s Jerry Tennant also receives national award for his volunteer work

Red Deer’s Thomasina Payne has been competitive for as long as she can remember.

Thursday night, she reached new heights in her athletic pursuits as the long-time Special Olympics standout was honoured as the organization’s Athlete of the Year, in a special broadcast on TSN.

“It was a pretty big honour I guess to be one of the two representatives from Alberta in the awards,” said Payne, who was quick to thank her coaches and all the volunteers in Red Deer for helping her get to where she is today.

“It was a bit of a surprise.”

For the past 18 years, Payne has competed in curling, athletics and most recently, speed skating. She has represented Special Olympics Alberta at two National Games and Special Olympics Team Canada at the World Summer Games in 2011 where she won multiple medals. In 2020, she was named to Special Olympics Team Canada Training Squad for the World Winter Games 2022 in Kazan, Russia.

She said sport has given her so much, from keeping her fit, travelling around the world and helping with confidence.

“Being able to go to new places and meet new people and try new sports,” she said.

“It’s given me a better level of fitness, too. It’s helped me learn new things.”

Special Olympics Red Deer chair and program director Jerry Tennant, who has been in the position for the past 30 years, said it’s been a thrill to watch Payne grow and develop as an athlete.

“She’s one of those athletes that is determined, works hard, trains hard. Not only that, she’s a mentor to other athletes,” Tennant said.

“Just one of those athletes that puts everything into it. Works hard and succeeds and is able to move up the ladder.”

Tennant said when she isn’t competing, Payne is one of the best cheerleaders out there, especially for her sister Chantal.

“Both she and her sister are that way… they’ve both been to the Worlds and they’re the kind that if one sister gets to go, nobody’s upset – they help each other train and they’re happy with the success that either one of them has,” he said.

Not only did the long-time Red Deer volunteer get to hear the name of a local athlete called, but he was also recognized himself.

Tennant received the Jim Thompson Award, which is given to a volunteer who exemplifies the spirit, the philosophy and the goals of the Special Olympics movement.

“Quite stunned I guess. I was appreciative. There’s a lot of good volunteers out there. Some have almost as many years as I do,” he said.

Tennant has been involved with the organization for 40 years.

Back in 1981 when he was working for the City of Red Deer, he found out about the group through his work in the recreation department. He jumped on board to help and he’s been with the organization ever since. Giving the athletes a chance to compete ranks right up there as one of the reasons he’s stayed involved for so long.

“The important thing for these athletes is they can compete. Not necessarily win,” he said.

“The motto is let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brace in the attempt and a lot of them, whether they win or someone else does, they’re happy that someone succeeded.”

For the last 30 years, he’s been Special Olympics Red Deer chair and program director. His leadership has resulted in a 300 per cent increase in the number of athletes and volunteers in the local program.

“I’m into my 41st year. It’s basically the ideals of the organization. That everyone deserves to be able to try sports and succeed at sports,” he said.

“The dedication and the spirit of the athletes. The work of the volunteers and the time and effort and energy they put into making sure the programs are available to the athletes. It’s just a real, close-knit family. Locally and provincially.”



byron.hackett@reddeeradvocate.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Red Deer’s Jerry Tennant, chairman and program director of Special Olympics Red Deer was honoured for his work by Special Olympics Canada in a special ceremony on Thursday. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer’s Jerry Tennant, chairman and program director of Special Olympics Red Deer was honoured for his work by Special Olympics Canada in a special ceremony on Thursday. (Advocate file photo)