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Grief brings Special Olympic curlers together heading into nationals

Sam Russell and Spencer Rourke, Prince George Special Olympic curlers, know it's important to come together as a team when challenges come up.

Two local Special Olympics curlers are sitting together before practice in the foyer of the Prince George Golf and Curling Club.

One young man, shoulders hunched over in grief, hands covering his eyes, leans into his friend.

Sam Russell had just told his friend and teammate, Spencer Rourke, that his grandmother died the day before.

Spencer wrapped his arms around Sam to offer comfort.

“We’ll play at Nationals for your grandma, Sam, we’re going to get through this together, right Sam?” Spencer said. “Remember we’re family.”

“My grandma was a great curler,” Sam said later. “She passed away yesterday and it’s been hard for me. Spencer just told me that whether we win or not we’ll have fun and we’ll play for her and I feel honoured that he said that. We all have parents and sisters and brothers and aunts but us curlers, we’re family, too, and I’m pretty happy about that.”

Spencer, who throws lead stones for the team heading to nationals in Calgary at the end of this month, said practice has been going pretty good.

“But I’m not going to worry about the competition, we’re just going to go play, have fun and I’ll try my best,” Spencer added calmly.

Sam plays third stone and his specialty is takeouts.

“We’re going to try our best,” Sam said. “I feel good this year and I’m sticking with my plan, my goals. I'm proud."

Peter Goudal, training coach for the National Special Olympics curlers in Prince George, said they’ve been training all year since they found out they qualified for the competition during provincials.

“So in the summertime we’ve been doing dry land training and boot camps and family and friends walks as part of their fitness program and we’ve had some summer sporting activities,” Goudal said. “Curling started up in October so we’ve been practicing since then."

The team Spencer and Sam are on is called the Quesnel Fury and their motto is Together We Rock.

Members from Quesnel include Martin Scriver, Trevor Roszmann and Cherie Swann.

“We had a tournament in Dawson Creek in November and that was the first time all five players got to play as a team and they took second place at the 10-team tournament and more importantly it was an opportunity to build team camaraderie," Goudal said.

To team build even more, Goudal has been driving Spencer and Sam down to Quesnel on Fridays as the Special Olympics team plays in the men’s league.

“So they can all get to know each other better, practice together and then we work on strategy and that’s been really helpful for that,” Goudal said. “And the Quesnel team members have come up here, too, so the team has played together about eight times.”

Special Olympics athletes from Prince George heading to Calgary from Feb. 27 to March 2 include bowler Lance Pattinson and snowshoe racers David Dunn and Marinka VanHage.

The Prince George Special Olympics is always looking for volunteers. For more information visit Special Olympics Prince George.