Local Special Olympics curling coach Mark Heartt has taken home the Special Olympics Canada Coach of the Year Award. The Grande Prairie resident has been part of Special Olympics for more than 18 years, coaching in numerous communities in B.C. and Alberta.
After winning the Coach of the Year Award for Alberta in May, Special Olympics Alberta submitted Heartt’s name for national contention. The coach says he feels validated by the organization he loves after winning both.
“To win that is unbelievable, it is so humbling. I love coaching Special Olympics, it’s the highlight of my week; to be recognized for something that I love to do so much it’s so neat, it’s a huge honour.”
Heartt credits both of his wins to his athletes and their continued dedication to practice and competition, saying the entire Special Olympics Alberta community can celebrate the recognition.
“If it wasn’t for the athletes, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity, they’re the ones who need to be thanked for all of this.”
“I’ve seen so many amazing things with the athletes, they come to practice and go to competitions and that’s when the magic happens, when the athletes come together in a competition because they are safe, they feel safe and accepted in that environment, and they shine.”
Heartt adds that with the recognition, he plans on advocating for stronger coach training for Special Olympics Canada, saying current programs lack focus on intellectually handicapped methods of training.
“It’s hard for a coach that hasn’t worked with a Special Olympics athlete to relate a drill to that athlete. I would like to see us have more coaches that are being recognized as good coaches, and take your experience and help other coaches to learn how to work with their athletes and get the best out of them.”
Heartt and his team are scheduled to compete at the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Calgary from February 27th to March 2nd.