They say it takes surviving a winter in the Yukon to become what’s referred to as a Sourdough. For Laurie Sokolowski, it took only two years living in the territory before representing the Yukon on the national stage.
“It stands out because of the excitement of representing the Yukon,” said Sokolowski. “There was a real buzz about that; everyone was coming up to me and asking me about how much I was playing in the Yukon, what it was like and about the competitions in Whitehorse. The next thing to come up was that many of them had attended the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.”
Sokolowski, who moved to Dawson City from Kemptville, Ontario, two years ago, won three medals last weekend at the Canadian Table Tennis Championships in Trois Riviers, Quebec. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1990, Sokolowski competes from a wheelchair.
“The main effect, as far as sports go, I can’t stand for long periods of time and fatigue takes over rather quickly,” said Sokolowski. “As far as expansion for the Paralympic movement, the fact that we now have one more part of Canada involved was a big thing and everyone was really happy about it.”
In Trois Riviers Sokolowski won gold in the open wheelchair doubles division with her former Ontario team coach Barry Butler and bronze in the open wheelchair singles. Sokolowski also took bronze in the open women’s 50 plus, which includes both able-bodied and disabled participants.
For Sokolowski, the doubles finals were the high point of the championships.
“(The finals) were at the end of all the events, because we were in the same venue as the able-bodied nationals all that was left was the wheelchair doubles final and the men’s singles open,” said Sokolowski. “So we had a pretty big crowd watching us. That would be the highlight because we had the most people watching.
“Because I’ve been to several international events, a lot of people know me and I had people rooting for me and were excited that I was representing the Yukon.”
The two took gold without dropping a set in the championships.
In the open wheelchair singles, Sokolowski took bronze after losing in the semis to her doubles partner Butler, who went on to win gold.
“That match was really close—we kept going back and forth,” said Sokolowski. “I’ve been playing since 2000 and he got me started. In practice—I can’t remember if we’ve ever been teamed at a competition before.”
For her other bronze in the open women’s 50 plus, Sokolowski lost in the semis after dropping a two-set lead as energy levels began to drop.
“I almost had the silver in the bag,” said Sokolowski. “I won the first two sets well, but lost the next three and it was just fatigue setting in. We had been there all day and we started pretty late.”
Sokolowski has competed nationally on the Ontario team and internationally on the Canadian team numerous times, but this was the first Canadian Championships she has played in as a representative of the Yukon.
She had her best international results at the Mexico Open in 2005, winning silver in the team event, bronze in her wheelchair singles class and bronze in doubles. Her last international event was the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2007, which was precedent setting.
“That was the first Pan-Am Games where the able-bodied and disabled table tennis events were at the same venue at the same time,” said Sokolowski. “Back in the day the wheelchair events would be held at the same time, but at a different area. So it just wouldn’t work that we could be in the open (divisions).”
In early May, Sokolowski competed in the Yukon Table Tennis Championships in Porter Creek, taking second with Whitehorse’s Kevin Murphy in the team event and fourth in the women’s singles.
“I always enjoy playing table tennis,” said Sokolowski in May. “I love getting in as many tournaments as possible, that’s why I came. Whenever there’s a tournament within driving distance, I’ll be in it.”
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