First Ever Local Athletes Join Team Canada for Special Olympics Canada World Winter Games

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Barry Streib (left), Chair of the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020, presented the local Special Olympics chapter with a legacy gift of $87,500. Also pictured are athletes Gabrielle Hannusch, Amy Cizmar, Tyler Rissanen and Carson Smith
Barry Streib (left), Chair of the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020, presented the local Special Olympics chapter with a legacy gift of $87,500. Also pictured are athletes Gabrielle Hannusch, Amy Cizmar, Tyler Rissanen and Carson Smith

Thunder Bay – SPORTS – Special Olympics Thunder Bay celebrated the incredible achievement of two local athletes Friday, athletes who will join Team Canada at the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Amy Cizmar (Alpine Skiing) and Tyler Rissanen (Snowshoeing) earned their spots on the team during the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games hosted in Thunder Bay in February of 2020. Travelling to Kazan, Russia in January of 2023, they will be the first athletes to compete on the world stage from the Special Olympics Thunder Bay chapter.

“This is an historic accomplishment within our Thunder Bay chapter,” said Rob Neff, Community Coordinator. “Amy and Tyler are the first of our athletes to qualify for a World Games, putting us on the international stage for the first time. Their achievement is the result of their hard work and dedication, and also a credit to their coaches, families and fellow athletes who support them. We are so proud of them and know they will be wonderful ambassadors for our chapter, our city and our country.”

Amy Cizmar, Alpine Skiing, has been a part of Special Olympics for almost 11 years and is happy with how far she’s come. “This is such a joyful moment for me because this is my first time going to Worlds,” she said. “To get ready for the competition, I do bounce [trampoline] every day in the morning and go to the gym sometimes. I work with my training coach and am happy to have help from my family too. Soon I’ll get to be back on the hill and will hope to go three times per week.”

About her new global adventure, Cizmar added, “Russia is a new place and a new mountain for me, so I’m pretty happy and excited for it. I’m hoping to get on a podium, so I have to be extra strong for that. There is not a mountain that I cannot conquer, so I know I can do it!”

Tyler Rissanen, Snowshoeing, has been involved with Special Olympics for about eight years and has a lot he’s looking forward to. “I am super excited to go to Worlds!” he said. “It will be my first time flying internationally and I’m really looking forward to meeting new friends and the actual competition to see what the other countries have to bring.”

Like Cizmar, Rissanen has been working diligently to prepare for the international event. “I’ve been working weekly with a running coach, a personal trainer and a conscious living coach—cross-training, running, hiking, golfing, swimming—everything you can name, I’ve done it. I’ve been busy,” he laughed. “I’ll be able to get back to snowshoeing soon and will do that once or twice a week.”

Throughout his training, Rissanen has been grateful to have a lot of support. “It means a lot to have my family and friends behind me, including the coaches, volunteers and athletes from Special Olympics.”

One such person, Denita Minoletti, Treasurer/Event Coordinator for Special Olympics Thunder Bay, admires both athletes’ ongoing commitment to their training. “The World Games was postponed by one year, and Amy and Tyler have both managed that with incredible grace. They have remained diligent in their training for this extended wait and pivoted when needed during pandemic shutdowns. Their resilience and enthusiasm is an inspiration and we know they will continue to inspire us as they finish their training and move on to compete in Russia. Our entire Special Olympics community will proudly cheer them on in 2023, and we invite all of Thunder Bay to do the same.”

The celebration ended with a surprise donation of $87,500 to Special Olympics Thunder Bay. The contribution comes from the proceeds of the successful Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020 and was presented by Games Chair Barry Streib.

“This gift has been made possible by our entire community coming together to support the 2020 Games in record form,” said Streib. “There were so many people involved in the event in so many ways, from sponsors and donors, to fundraisers and volunteers, that we exceeded our fundraising goal and are thrilled to pass these extra funds on to the local Special Olympics chapter. Our goal for the Games was to provide the best experience possible for the athletes and this donation is an exciting legacy that extends that effort beyond the Games.”