Tseshaht member to compete at World Games

Port Alberni, BC

A passion for running has paid off for a Tseshaht First Nation member.

Jolyn Watts, who is 27, has been selected to compete at this year’s Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany.

The multi-sport games will run June 17-25.

Watts will represent Canada in 800-metre and 1,500-metre races.

“I’m really happy and really excited,” Watts said of the upcoming meet, which will mark her international debut.

Watts has been running for about eight years. She is a member of Port Alberni Local, a Special Olympics club that has been offering athletic programming in the community since 1984.

Watts’ coach Mike Riddalls said the Tseshaht runner also participates in some sprint competitions. But she has more success in longer races.

“She’s not particularly fast,” Riddalls said. “But she’s like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going.”

The summer version of the Special Olympics World Games is held every four years. Winter games are also staged every four years, two years apart from their summer counterparts.

Riddalls said traditionally athletes compete at regional and then national competitions in order to try and qualify for the World Games.

But the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into those plans. Watts, who has never participated in a Canadian championship, was named to the Berlin-bound squad based on her performances at a regional track and field meet in Nanaimo this past June.

Riddalls said he was caught off guard when Watts was named to the Canadian team.

“I’m very pleased but surprised,” he said.

Canada will be represented by a total of 89 athletes in Germany. Watts is one of 16 who will compete in athletics (track and field) events.

Besides athletics, the World Games will also feature badminton, basketball, 3-on-3 basketball, beach volleyball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, field hockey, football, futsal, golf, artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, handball, judo, kayaking, open water swimming, powerlifting, roller skating, sailing, swimming, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.

Watts is not just proficient at running.

“She’s a very good swimmer too,” Plouffe said. “When (Canadian team officials) first called me, I thought they were calling to tell me she had been chosen for the swim team.”

Athletes can only participate in one sport at the World Games.

Besides her efforts at the Nanaimo track meet last year, Watts was named to the Canadian squad for another reason, said Riddalls.

“What they are looking for are individuals that can be away from home for three weeks,” he said. “They go to a training camp somewhere in Germany before the games.”

Special Olympics events feature athletes with intellectual disabilities. Athletes with physical disabilities are also eligible to compete.

Riddalls said Watts is dedicated to her running.

“She’s a very upbeat individual,” he said. “She loves to train, which really helps.”

And her personality is welcoming as well, Riddalls added.

“She’s a lovely person to work with,” he said.

Watts is usually being coached by Riddalls two times per week at the track. She also frequents a private gym where she works on her strength, averaging two sessions per week with a personal trainer.

Watts also swims, usually once a week. Plus, she has a spin bike at her home.

“The cross-training really helps,” Riddalls said. “She’s putting in a lot of time training.”

Watts’ mother is also impressed with her commitment to the sport.

“It’s amazing,” Plouffe said. “I’m just really proud of her and how she’s committed to her training.”

Watts, who also works part-time at a local Starbucks, explained why she’s enamoured with running.

“I like the fresh air and being outdoors,” she said.

Watts has already met those who will also be representing Canada at the games in Germany. All of the Canadian team’s athletes, from all of the sports, were invited to a meeting in Toronto in November. 

They will also converge in Toronto again in April for some training sessions.

Watts said she would love to capture some hardware while competing in Berlin.

Riddalls believes that is a possibility.

“I think she’ll do well,” he said. “She’ll be in a group with others that have similar times.”

Plouffe said she is not sure when Watts’ next Special Olympics race will be. But the mother and daughter are planning to run a 5-kilometre race together this May in Parksville.

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