Tseshaht First Nation’s golden girl is back home.
And Jolyn Watts is ecstatic she is now a world champion.
Watts, who is 28, competed at the recent Special Olympics World Games, which were staged June 17-25 in Berlin, Germany.
Watts participated in three track and field events in Berlin. And she ended up coming home with a pair of medals.
For starters, she was the gold medalist in the women’s 1,500-metre race at the C level. Athletes were divided into A, B or C divisions based on their previous best times they had submitted to games’ organizers beforehand.
Watts also earned a bronze medal as she was on the Canadian women’s 4x400-metre relay team that placed third in its final.
Watts also participated in her women’s 800-metre race. But she was disqualified from that event as she did not remain in her lane for as long as she was required to.
Watts, who was competing in her first international competition, was especially thrilled she was able to have a strong finish in her 1,500-metre final to garner the gold medal.
“I was in third place (on the last lap),” she said. “And then I passed the two that were ahead of me.”
And her reaction when she realized she had become a world champion?
“I got excited,” said Watts, who took up running about eight years ago.
Watts is a member of Port Alberni Local, a Special Olympics club that has been offering athletic programming in the community since 1984.
Her local coach Mike Riddalls did not attend the event in Berlin, instead a national team coach was assigned for all of the Canadian track and field participants at the games.
Watts was able to set a personal best time of nine minutes and 30.04 seconds in her 1,500-metre final. She shaved about a minute off her previous best time.
“I’ve seen her run that fast in spurts before but not the whole race that fast,” Riddalls said.
Riddalls added Watts undoubtedly benefitted from a rigorous training schedule.
“She did a lot of cross-training,” he said. “I think she was busy seven days a week.”
Besides her regular track practices with Riddalls, Watts was also swimming twice a week and doing spinning sessions on a bike. She also stayed active by bowling regularly.
The summer version of the Special Olympics World Games is staged every four years. The games also offer a winter version, every four years. But those are held two years after the summer games.
The Special Olympics feature athletes that have intellectual challenges. Those with physical challenges are also welcome to compete.
Canadian athletes selected for the World Games are traditionally chosen following national competitions. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Special Olympic national meets were not held in Canada the past few years.
Watts was chosen to be on the national side because of her results at a regional meet held in Nanaimo in June 2022.
About 90 athletes represented Canada in Berlin. Besides track and field, the World Games featured 15 other sports: 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 said that she was able to attend the rhythmic gymnastics competition during her spare time at the games.
Plus, she enjoyed her experience of being in Germany.
“I liked seeing everything different, like the different kinds of stores,” she said.
Another highlight for Watts was visiting, with her teammates, the Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany’s oldest and best-known zoo.
Watts added she was able to make several new friends while overseas. She plans to keep in touch with several of the new people she met via social media.
As for Riddalls, he’s understandably thrilled one of his athletes was able to win some hardware at a world competition.
“The medals are just part of the story,” he said. “The journey she had is quite incredible. We started training I think in the middle of October and continued to do so until the week before the games.”
Though another meet might pop up before then, Riddalls said Watts’ next track event might be next June, at a Special Olympics competition in Nanaimo.
Riddalls believes the fact Watts was able to compete at the World Games will prove to be inspirational for some other athletes at his Port Alberni club.
“I hope so,” he said. “The Special Olympics are all about competition and training and having fun. I do think (Jolyn’s participation in Berlin) will inspire some of our other local athletes to get to the national team.”