Special Olympians (from left) Francis Stanley

Kelowna contingent preps for world games

Tracey Melesko, Francis Stanley and Tony Wilkinson will compete next spring at the Special Olympic World Winter Games in Austria

Tracey Melesko has a wealth of experience on the international stage.

Francis Stanley and Tony Wilkinson will be competing for Canada for the very first time.

Together, the three local athletes will be representing Kelowna, their province and their country next March at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

Melesko and Stanley will be competing in cross country skiing, while Wilkinson is a members of Canada’s team in snowshoeing.

All three athletes qualified for the national squad thanks to their performances earlier this spring at the Special Olympic Canada Winter Games in Cornerbook, NFLD.

They will be joined in Austria by coach Ray Huson of Penticton, and Vernon athlete Justin Sigal, who trains with Kelowna’s cross country program.

Melesko, who won gold in the 5 KM classic and two silver medals, will be competing in her second world winter games. The multiple national medal winner has also travelled to four Special Olympics World Summer Games, making her the undisputed veteran of the Kelowna contingent.

Melesko is excited to once against wear her country’s colours, while having a chance to experience both the competition and camaraderie to their fullest.

“I’m just expecting to do my best and represent our country,” Melesko said. “Meeting all the athletes, that’s the main thing…and getting to know your own teammates. That’s going to be another fun thing.”

Francis Stanley dominated his division in cross country skiing at nationals, winning gold in three events—the 1 KM and 2.5 KM classic, and 10 KM freestyle—and could contend for more medals at worlds.

“Francis is very dedicated, talented and a great competitor,” said Garth Vickers, who is the head coach for Kelowna’s cross country athletes.

Wilkinson booked a trip to Austria thanks to his gold medal performance in snowshoeing in the 100 metres. He also added silver medals in the 200 and 400 metre events.

“I’m really looking forward to being at the games, meeting other people and being part of the big event,” Tony Wilkinson said. “It think it will be a good for me and fun to compete.”

Like Stanley and Wilkinson, coach Ray Huson is also making his first ever trip to the Special Olympic World Winter Games. Huson expects all three athletes will do Canada proud in Austria.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Huson said. “They’ve been training really hard, they performed really well at national games, so I think it’s going to be excellent.”

All three athletes have been doing their share of off-season work in preparation for the worlds.

Stanley and Wilkinson have both been training twice a week in track and field, while Melesko has been training on her road bike, planning to do rides of 56 and 75 km this summer.