At just 13-years-old, Special Olympics Alberta’s Wyatt Oostendorp is the youngest athlete out of more than 800 competitors gearing up for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020 in February.
The alpine skier is also new to the sport – it’s only his second year on the slopes.
“I’m surprised that I even made it on the (provincial) team,” a humble Wyatt said from his home in Edmonton. “I know there’s so many other athletes that have been training longer than me.”
Wyatt was introduced to skiing on a school trip two years ago. He loved it right away.
“Skiing was the first sport that I actually truly enjoyed,” said Wyatt. “I like the feeling of going fast and I also really like the kind of feeling of the air rushing past you.”
His mother, Kelly Oostendorp, immediately signed him up for lessons.
“When I first signed him up, I was just so happy he was into doing some type of sport,” said Kelly, a former competitive gymnast and coach. “As a parent, you just want your kid to be happy.”
The following season she moved him to the local Special Olympics ski club.
“The atmosphere is really good to me,” said Wyatt. “All the people are so nice and you get much more personalized support and it’s more about helping you ski better than just the time that you get to go down the hill.”
According to his coach Nicola Przeczek, he’s made “leaps and bounds” in the two short seasons she’s known him.
“He started out in snow plow and some people take years to move from that and it only took him one season, so he’s skiing parallel and now ready to go try some big mountains,” she said. “Usually you don’t progress that fast.”
Wyatt and Kelly credit his success to constant practice – he’s at Edmonton’s Snow Valley so much the staff are “like a second family.”
He doesn’t come from a family of skiers either – his dad only recently picked up the sport so he could join Wyatt, who often coaches him.
SKIING WAS THE FIRST SPORT THAT I ACTUALLY TRULY ENJOYED — WYATT OOSTENDORP
Wyatt’s first big competition was the Special Olympics Alberta Winter Games earlier this year in Calgary.
He earned a gold medal, beating out second place by a mere two-and-a-half seconds.
“The gold medal surprised me so much,” said Wyatt. “It made me so happy.”
While he’s not nervous about the stiff competition at National Games, he’s nervous about the flight and staying in a hotel.
In preparation, he’s packing noise cancelling headphones and has been watching videos of past Opening Ceremonies so he knows what to expect.
Competition-wise, a medal isn’t a top priority.
“If I do get a medal then that’d be great to remember the time there, but I’m really going for the experience,” he said. “I want the experience of going, so I can be more prepared if I ever go to future competitions.”
More high-level competitions are definitely in his future, said coach Nicola.
“If he keeps going the way he’s going, I see him going back to Nationals again and being somebody who has the potential to do really well,” she said.
Special Olympics World Winter Games still aren’t on his radar, though.
“I think maybe I’d wait until maybe I’m several years older,” said Wyatt.