19-year-old Special Olympics swimmer Emily Skulj has made it onto Team Ontario and will compete at the Canada Summer Games.
“She’s from Thorold so she’s not only representing Ontario, she’s representing her city as well,” says her mother Carol-Ann Skulj, in an interview with ThoroldToday.
Emily Skulj has been a Special Olympic swimmer since she was eight, and she is part of the St. Catharines Otters Swim Club, of which her mother is the head coach.
To get Skulj ready for her turn at the Canada Summer Games, she’s been working hard with volunteer coach Anthony Gunn.
Gunn, who hails from Elora, is a competitive swimmer in the varsity team at Brock University, where he's studying sports management.
He started volunteering at the Otters Swim Club in 2021, and quickly developed a special bond with Skulj.
“He understands developmental disabilities so he’s able to communicate well with her,” says Skulj's mother. “He made a connection with her.”
“He’s kind and he’s a good coach,” adds Emily Skulj.
Gunn says he started volunteering at the Otters Swim Club to give back to his community.
“I like giving back to swimming because it gave so much to me,” Gunn tells ThoroldToday. “Especially with the Special Olympics, it humbled me a lot. It’s been a great experience. I just love helping everybody go faster and I love giving back to the sport of swimming.”
Because of COVID-19, Special Olympics swimming shut down and it was hard for Skulj to keep up her training.
“It was difficult for the whole team because it’s something they enjoy,” Skulj's mother says. “it’s part of their routine, it’s something that gives them a release.”
“It’s harder for swimmers because when you look at a sport like soccer or basketball you can go outside and find a field to play in,” adds Gunn. “It’s hard to get inside to a pool when you can’t even go into a building.”
In spite of the challenging last two years, Skulj has qualified as a member for Team Ontario at the Canada Summer Games, where she will compete in five events: 50 meters Freestyle, Backstroke and Breaststroke, and 100 meters Free and Back.
To prepare for the Games, Skulj has been training hard with Gunn at the Brock University and Thorold Community Pool.
“She said it’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Skulj's mother says. “She gets to be part of the team, and she gets to feel good about herself with everyone. She doesn’t want to feel different so it makes her feel great.”
“I think for any athlete getting to go to any of these meets is just the greatest experience,” adds Gunn. “You get to see high-level athletes. A lot of the swimmers have a chance to go to the Olympics in the next few years. It’s a great thing to see.”
As for Skulj, she says she hopes: “To get a medal, swim my hardest, and represent the Special Olympics and Team Ontario.”