Not only did three Comox Valley athletes put their best foot forward on the world stage, they took it a big step farther and ascended the medal podium.
Robert Burns, Chris Roberge and Brad Hogan were part of the 114-athlete Team Canada contingent at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, Calif. and the trio collected five medals during the nine days (July 25 to Aug. 2) of competition.
Burns, who will soon be 63, has been with Special Olympics for 16 years. He won gold in the standing long jump and silver in the 50m. Roberge and Hogan were on the Grizzlies softball team that won bronze, with Hogan picking up an additional medal for being chosen to play in a VIP game.
All three earned their Special Olympics Team Canada berths through their outstanding performances with Team BC in the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games in Vancouver. Burns won three individual athletics medals – two gold and one bronze – and Roberge and Hogan struck gold with their softball team.
The trio returned to the Valley Aug. 4 and said that after 14 days on the road it was nice to be home. Their first week in L.A. was spent in Orange County, where they got to take in the Orange County Fair with its servings of super-sized food and wild rides.
“The food was huge, but we couldn’t touch it because we were in training,” Roberge said. “There were lots of rides. We went on a few of them. Brad went on one that had him screaming.”
“I don’t know what (the ride) was called, but I never want to go on it again,” Hogan said. He said a video of him “enjoying” the ride is on YouTube but cautions that some of his language might not be suitable for all family members.
The three agreed that taking in an Angels vs. Twins MLB game was a highlight of the trip. For the second week, the athletes stayed at either the big (and completely smoke-free) UCLA campus and Chapman University.
Burns said the weather was super hot the second week after being milder with some cooling winds the first week. He was able to overcome the heat, winning both his medals on the same day (July 29). Battling injuries from a car accident, Burns was believed to be the oldest participant from B.C. and the second oldest at the 7,000-athlete Games, behind a bocce player from back east.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies kept their cool in the hot conditions and added a bronze medal to the silver they won in 2011 and the gold garnered in 1999 by beating Mexico 8-5.
Roberge, 33, played pitcher, catcher, first base and second base while 32-year-old Hogan saw action at shortstop and third base. Roberge said his highlight came against India when he had his glove in perfect position at first base to snare a hard-hit line drive.
Hogan’s highlight came in the bronze medal game. “We were down 3-0 and I got a two-run home run to get us going.” He also made a great diving catch for the third out of an inning. “In that game my infielding was particularly good. When we won the medal it made my year.”
Hogan was chosen to play in a Unified Sports Experience (“I call it a VIP game,” he said) game where he played alongside “superstars and celebrities.”
“There were four teams, with six players from Team Canada on it. We just go out there and have fun,” Hogan said. “I met Ed Harris the actor, one of the moments I thought was cool. The other was I caught a fly ball from a hall of fame basketball player. I don’t remember his name – he was tall and big.”
While the 2015 Games were Hogan’s first time across the U.S.-Canada border, Burns has flown to Manitoba and Ontario for training camps while Roberge was with the 2011 softball team that won silver in Athens, Greece.
Noting that the Grizzlies have been to the World Summer Games three times, Hogan said it was announced at the Team Canada send-off in Vancouver that the team will be inducted into the Special Olympics B.C. Hall of Fame this fall.
“We wanted to tell them in person, so we used the Team Canada send-off as that opportunity – but we actually haven’t officially announced this publicly yet; that will be coming in September,” said Megan Grittani-Livingston, Communications Liaison with Special Olympics Team Canada and Manager, Communications, Special Olympics BC.
While the athletes will have time to relax and reflect on their accomplishments, there is more competition coming their way. Roberge is a member of the Comox Valley floor hockey team going to Newfoundland in March for the nationals, while Burns is preparing for another season of curling. “I’m really a good curler,” he said.
Along with the medals, all three will remember the 2015 Games for the chance to represent their country and make new friends while enjoying a healthy lifestyle.
GAMES NOTES Team Canada brought home a record-breaking 144 medals (70 gold, 48 silver and 26 bronze) and countless personal bests … the Games are the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world in 2015 and hosted roughly 7,000 athletes from 177 countries … Canada sent 164 representatives in total …