Yukon Special Olympics figure skater Michael Sumner dazzled at the Canada Winter Games in Prince Edward Island with his sterling performances as he marked his final time on the ice at the games for the territory.
“I was very impressed with how well the games went,” Sumner said. “The volunteers were amazing, the host city was full of joy and excitement. The venues were nice and we were able to attend six out of 12 sports.”
Sumner won gold on March 2 and on the final day of the competition he was named the recipient of the Pat Lechelt award, which celebrates an athlete who exemplifies True Sport principles on and off the field.
“Winning this award felt like the world to me,” he said. “I was very honoured, and humbled… I feel so happy to have been selected.”
With his gold medal, the territory’s medal tally came to three at the end of the competition. Team Yukon’s biathletes Cheyenne Tirschmann and Cole Germain earned the territory’s first medal – bronze – in the single mixed relay on Feb 24. Judoka Jaymi Hinchey won a bronze medal in the 57-kilogram female category on March 2.
Sumner’s standout performance at the competition was nearly marred by an injury after he twisted his ankle before his free skate competition.
But he said his determination and spirit pulled him through the hurdle.
“My coach immediately had me ice it and rested until my time to skate,” he said. “My ankle was bandaged and it felt good in my skate. I told myself, ‘You can do this’.”
Sumner has participated in figure skating since 2007, and competed competitively with the Special Olympics since 2011.
“I have been so very fortunate to have had this amazing opportunity to be part of competition in the Special Olympics category at the Canada Winter Games,” he said. “The experience will stay with me forever and I am so grateful to be a part of this sports event.”
Tanya Sage, Sumner’s coach during the games, said he is dedicated, puts out his best effort and skated through injury on competition day.
“He made us all proud,” she said. “A couple of little blips in his program, but his skating skills have improved considerably and he has been working tirelessly on nailing some of the elements that have historically given him trouble.”
Sage and Sumner prepared well for the event in P.E.I. Before the games, the duo trained on ice for three days a week from the beginning of October. Sage told the News there were also off-ice exercises Sumner was engaging in at least three to five days a week, including some mental preparations.
“He scaled back some of his other Special Olympic sports to commit himself to his skating,” she said. “He always works hard for me on and off the ice, and strives to make the corrections or improvements that are needed.”
Sage said it was not all about sports and training as they had times for fun and relaxation.
“I think that is one of the important pieces of our coach/athlete relationship because we have fun, training isn’t something that we want to avoid,” she said. “In P.E.I., we just kept that going and I did try to push him a bit further out of his comfort zone this year, and it showed in his practices.”
Sage explained the ice was a challenge as there were no markings and for an athlete that uses the red dots and lines of the ice to lay out his program, that could be an issue.
“But we plotted his program out before we even hit the ice so when he got out there to practise, he nailed it,” Sage said. “We practise deep breathing before competition and talk about slowing everything down in his mind so that he can take each element one at a time and be in the moment.”
While Sumner’s career may have come to an end for the games as he ages out, Sage said he is still eligible for the Special Olympics.
“Our journey together is not over,” she said. “We have the 2024 Special Olympic Winter Games to look forward to, and train for, next February, so we still have work to do. Training will start up again after spring break.”
Sumner said he wants to continue skating with the Special Olympics. As for the Canada Winter Games, he said he is enthusiastic and might try and get involved on “some level like mentoring, coaching, volunteering and, for sure, cheering.”
Sage, who has worked with Sumner at two Canada Winter Games and two Special Olympics, said he is the picture of a True Sport athlete and gives “100 per cent at every practice and competition, supports and cheers on his teammates, lifts up athletes from other teams and makes friends wherever he goes. I am honoured to be a part of his journey — past, present, and future.”
For athletes from the territory who presented impressive performances in individual and team events, Sage said it is something Yukoners should be proud of.
“They carried themselves well and I’m sure put out their best efforts, and were amazing ambassadors for the Yukon,” she said.
The competition was a great experience, she said, adding that Charlottetown, the host city, was well organized with lots to do outside of the competition, including opportunities to see other sports and activities.
“The volunteers were amazing. Every one I encountered had a smile, made time for conversation and really embraced the spirit of the games,” she said. “It was hard to get out to all the sports we wanted to get out to due to transportation challenges as some of the sports were quite far away from Charlottetown, however, we did manage to get into six of the 12 sports going on in the second week.”
Andrew Elines, the mission staff for Team Yukon curling mixed doubles and Special Olympics figure skating teams, said the games were “fantastic and seamless overall with no major issues, which made for a positive experience for athletes and spectators alike.”
Events like the Canada Winter Games, he said, show the impact sport can have on communities and the legacies they can create.
Elines said Sumner always has a positive attitude.
“I know how hard he works for every competition, and this one was no different,” he said. “He leaves it all out there, and I’m ecstatic for a perfect ending to his Canada Winter Games career. Between his gold medal and picking up the Pat Lechelt True Sport award, I kept joking with him that his luggage will be overweight for the plane ride home.”
Looking back, Sumner said his best moments at all games are meeting athletes, coaches, mission staff and volunteers and reconnecting with past friends and competitors. But his very best moments, he said, are competing and cheering on other athletes.
For young Yukon athletes who look up to him and dream of competing at the Canada Winter Games, Sumner has some words: “Dream big, try hard, love what you do and practise a lot as it will pay off.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at firstname.lastname@example.org