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North Bay shines in Special Olympic snowshoeing (PHOTO GALLERY)

Saturday, January 31, 2015   by: Liam Berti
North Bay's Jon Touw sprints ahead of the field in his 100-metre snowshoe event. Touw and classmates J.J Stickland and Carley Tucker all claimed at least one gold medal each over the weekend. PHOTO BY DAVE STEVENSON
The only thing brighter than the blanket of falling snow at the Clarion Resort on Saturday afternoon were the smiles of the Special Olympic Ontario Winter Games snowshoe athletes.
Among those biggest were three of North Bay’s competing athletes, who claimed a plethora of medals on their home turf in front of a screaming crowd of family and friends.
Jon Touw, 16, J.J Stickland, 17, and Carley Tucker, 17, all took to the podium in their respective disciplines and categories, each earning at least one gold medal.
“It has been amazing,” Stickland said after his last heat. “We all came together as one. We found new friendships and it has been awesome.”
On Saturday, Stickland and Tucker sprinted 100 metres to golden glory, while Touw finished second in his division of four, all against stiff competition.
“It was really hard because the second race I had, the finals, was really stacked,” said Stickland, whose mother is a former world champion in Special Olympic powerlifting.
“I didn’t know how I would do, but I feel like I did alright,” he continued. “I’m happy with the way I performed.”
Earlier in the competition, on Friday, Tucker won her first gold in the 200-metre discipline, while Touw sprinted to an impressive second place in a field of five.
“All the fans came out hard, stuck it out in the cold,” Stickland said gratefully. “That’s what North Bay is all about: it doesn’t matter if it’s warm or cold, they always come out and cheer us on.”
Despite being exhausted and out of breath in the aftermath of two days of intense competition, Touw said he had a lot of fun and that he couldn't stop thinking about winning.
What’s more, the three athletes are also classmates in grade 12 at Widdifield Secondary School.
“We are all in the same class and program, so we see each other pretty much every day anyway, but this has been fun,” said Stickland.
Unfortunately, their medals don’t guarantee their advancement to the 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. The Special Olympic organizers now take many different factors and combine them into a complex equation that determines their advancement.
Needless to say though, North Bay’s three snowshoers have positioned themselves well among the provincial talent, and all said the experience of the Ontario Winter Games has been wonderful.
After their final races and award ceremony at the Clarion Resort this afternoon, the athletes enjoyed a special closing dinner before the closing ceremonies and athlete's victory dance party. 
“It’s been great!” Stickland said simply. “I’ve met lots of new friends and so many nice people; other than the food, that’s been the best part for me.
“It doesn’t matter if they have a disability, they are a bunch of amazing people,” he concluded. 
Check BayToday for more soon on North Bay’s athletes in the weekend’s events