Kalena Soehn was likely bouncing before she could even walk.
Her athletic journey started ahead those first steps when her parents brought her into the gym they owned and she watched her brothers on the trampoline.
Since then, the 19-year-old Red Deer trampolinist has had more than her fair share of moments in the spotlight. From her early days competing at the age of eight, she has earned medals on the international and national level, including gold on the trampoline right in her own backyard at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. In short, she’s done a lot early in her competitive career.
The budding trampoline star spoke to a crowd of about 300 people on Wednesday, as the local celebrity at the 13th annual Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast.
Soehn spoke eloquently about her journey in sport and what it took to arrive at such a high level so quickly. She still has a lot more she hopes to accomplish down the road and encouraged those who choose the path to embrace it wholly.
“Where sport can take you and the journey you can have through sport. The fun that comes with it and a lifetime of memories,” Soehn said of what she hoped the audience would take away from her talk.
“I hope I inspired them to keep pursuing sport. I was so honoured to be invited to this. I’ve never done anything like this so, to be chosen and to know that I am at a stage where I can use my platform to do something like this is amazing.”
The annual event helps support the hundreds of Special Olympics athletes in Central Alberta. A few local athletes were in attendance to hear Soehn’s message about the joys sport can bring.
Jerry Tennant, chairman of Special Olympics Red Deer added the event is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year. He said they typically collect more than $10,000 which helps offset the cost for programs.
“In tough economic times, it’s gratifying to see the support that we do get from the business community,” said Tennant.
“The athletes always appreciate it and we always appreciate their efforts and that of our coaches, which we couldn’t do without. It is a strictly 100 per cent volunteer organization.”
Tennant noted that in Alberta they offer a variety of different sports for people with a variety of intellectual disabilities. They run programs year-round, with nearly a dozen sports between winter and summer activities. They are also always on the hunt for volunteers and as of now, they have about 65.
He added that volunteer support helps keep the programs going strong and with the funds they raise each year, it keeps costs low for athletes.
“We have athletes that come from 50-75 communities. We have athletes from all over Central Alberta that come to Red Deer because of our programs. It is going provincially and nationally. It is (still) always a bit of a challenge in terms of the support we need,” Tennant said.
2019 Canada Winter Games Update
Even if it wasn’t the focus of the event, Hugh McPherson, vice-chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games, discussed the Games legacy, including infrastructure and athlete development.
Although the final numbers won’t be available until September, McPherson believes the economic impact will be close to $100 million. Local sports organizations also benefited, with close to $500,000 of equipment.