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National ambitions

As a coach, Dawn Taylor has had a taste of being on deck for several Special Olympics provincial swim meets.
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Michaela Samsonoff is competing in Level 3 Rhythmic Gymnastics this week at the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games in Vancouver.

As a coach, Dawn Taylor has had a taste of being on deck for several Special Olympics provincial swim meets.

But she's advancing a step higher to the national level for the first time at the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games this week in Vancouver.

Taylor, who's coached Special Olympics Prince George swimmers for the last six years, will help guide three athletes - Jasymne Morgan, David Dunn and Josh Pudney - through the fast lanes at UBC's aquatic centre in Vancouver.

They're all part of Team B.C. and were among a contingent of 10 Prince George athletes and coaches who left Monday morning for the Lower Mainland.

"It will be chaos but I'm excited and privileged to do this with them," said Taylor prior to departing for Vancouver from the Prince George airport. "There will be more athletes there [at nationals] and we'll have to keep them safe. They'll get impatient until they get to their swim and some might not swim until the end of the day. Some will cheer on their fellow competitors since we're all part of Team B.C."

Swimmers can compete in up to six events in freestyle, individual medley, backstroke and breaststroke in distances ranging from 25 metres to 400m.

When it's time for their event, Taylor will help the swimmers visualize everything prior to it, from the time they're marshalled onto the deck, step onto the starting blocks, to their swim.

"Visualization is key and the mental side of things plays an important part because their swim can be over in 30 seconds," said Taylor.

The other five Prince George athletes, representing Region 8 competing at the Summer Games, include five-pin bowlers Emilie Snyders and Jordan Korum; 10-pin bowler Linda Renner; and rhythmic gymnasts Michaela Samsonoff and Darcie Muzychka.

They all qualified for the Summer Games at the B.C. Special Olympics Provincial Games in July, 2013.

They had to sign a contract to agree to participate in a fitness program, train in their sport at least once per week, eat a healthy diet and keep a positive attitude.

The swimmers practiced a minimum of twice per week - Dunn joined the Prince George Pisces Swim Club for extra mileage in the pool.

Since they qualified, part of Taylor's job has been to keep them focussed.

"Some have drifted off a bit, but I always tell them it's the outcome and this is what you have to do [to get to nationals]," she said. "They've put in extra time, I've been on call to help them. They've been biking and walking and looked after their diet and nutrition."

Vancouver last hosted the Summer Games in 1990.

For rhythmic gymnastics coach Dee Neukomm, returning to Vancouver for the Summer Games has a special meaning. She was the rhythmic gymnastics coach and Lara, her daughter, competed in the same sport.

"She was chosen to light the flame. It was a very special memory as she was going through chemo treatments at the time," she said. "I've been very fortunate in being chosen to coach at every National Games [seven of them] since that time."

The rhythmic gymnastics event is comprised of four levels, depending on the ability of the athletes. Muzychka is in the highest level (four), while Samsonoff is in level three. They've been practicing twice per week, perfecting their routines.

They'll do three or four different routines with various apparatus including hoop, ribbon, clubs, ball and rope. Each routine can earn them a medal.

A Summer Games contingent from Quesnel also traveled with the Prince George group on Monday. Quesnel participants include athletes Dean Cake, Cory Melnychuk, Jean Scriver and Eldon Carter and coaches Doreen O'Brien and Ellen Martz.

Anyone who wants to send messages to the athletes or coaches can do so through email, teambc@specialolympics.bc.ca