‘You’re never too old to compete’: Iconic Kelowna athlete preparing to ski her way to national Special Olympics

Click to play video 'Kelowna’s Tracey Melesko to compete in Special Olympics BC Winter Games in Vernon' Kelowna’s Tracey Melesko to compete in Special Olympics BC Winter Games in Vernon

Tracey Melesko is an athlete with many firsts.

She was the first athlete to be inducted into the Special Olympics B.C. Hall of Fame almost two decades ago.

She was the first athlete in the country with an intellectual disability to be carded by Sport Canada, with funding provided by the Canadian government for elite level athletes only

To be carded, athletes have to be in the top 16 in the world in their sport, or have the potential of reaching the top 16.

And, closer to home, she was also the first diverse-abilities athlete to be inducted into the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

“In elementary (school) I started doing sports. I did track for 12 years, but then I started doing this sport,” Melesko said, pointing to her cross country skis. “It’s a little bit harder to do, but I like it. It’s great competition. You get to meet a lot of people.”

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READ MORE: Special Olympics BC Winter Games coming to Vernon

Melesko will be competing this weekend at the 2019 Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games in Vernon with several teammates.

“They’re our veterans. Tracey and Neil have been skiing for about 20 years,” said Special Olympics provincial coach Garth Vickers, pointing to Tracey’s twin brother, Neil Melesko. “Both came from track and field.

“Tracey’s been to two world games for cross-country skiing. And we’ve got the young fellow, Francis Stanley, who’s just 21, and has already been to one world game and has really blossomed into an amazing skier.”

Vickers adds that these athletes work extremely hard in anticipation of competitions like the one coming up this weekend.

“We’ve got athletes that are training five, six, seven days a week in multiple sports,” Vickers said. “These athletes all train at home and at the gym, putting a lot of time in a lot of various programs. It’s a lot of dedication.”

As a former special education teacher, Vickers became a coach about two decades ago.

“Very privileged and inspired,” Vickers said, describing his feelings about working with Tracey Melesko. “She has set the bar for a lot of athletes in our organization.”

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As for Tracey, she stays humble about her impressive career that spans more than three decades.

“I was carded in 2000 when I went to Sydney, Australia, for the Para Olympic Games, so it was the first time. You almost get paid to do your sport,” Melesko said. “That was an accomplishment. I wasn’t expecting it at the time.”

Melesko has other goals in mind for the future. She’s working on speed skating and would love to eventually try biathlon.

“I might be a little bit older now, but you’re never too old to compete,” Melesko said.

The 2019 Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games take place Feb. 21 to Feb. 23 in Greater Vernon.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend any of the competitions, as well as opening and closing ceremonies, free of charge.

There is a full schedule of events listed on the Special Olympics B.C. website.