By Jason Misner
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, HDSB STAFF
Sofia Dershko can’t contain her smiling as she talks about her experience participating at the Special Olympics in Greece earlier this summer. She’s still basking in the glow of winning an impressive five gold medals.
Five gold medals is not a misprint.
The Grade 12 White Oaks Secondary School student took part in the popular games June 25-July 4 and brought home the gold medals while competing in Level 1 rhythmic gymnastics. She was one of a total of 7,500 athletes who participated in the two-week event featuring all kinds of activities – everything from aquatics and the marathon to rollerskating and beach volleyball.
With the five big, shiny medals laid out on her kitchen table, Dershko, a student with autism, talks about how proud she is of her accomplishments, especially since she only started rhythmic gymnastics about five years ago. She participated in four gymnastics routines – hoop, ball, rope and ribbon – and won gold in all four as well as a gold for overall performance.
“I was shocked and happy” by winning five gold medals, the sports-loving enthusiast says, adding the ball component is her favourite. She celebrated her 20th birthday while in Greece. “It makes me feel proud and glad we can represent our country.”
Standing at the top of the podium with hundreds of people clapping, Dershko says she was so excited and raised her arms high and waved to her family members in the crowd.
“Everybody was cheering,” Dershko says.
Dershko made the most of her first-time trip to Greece by visiting famous sites like the Acropolis – “The view was amazing,” she says – and the Isle of Rhodes.
It was a long and competitive road Sofia took in order to qualify for the Special Olympics. She had to compete in a number of qualifying events starting at the provincials in Sudbury in 2008. She even appeared on the front page of the sports section of the Windsor Star newspaper during one of her competitions.
Mom Debra Dershko smiles as much as her daughter, talking about how happy she is for her medal haul. But just as importantly, she is thrilled with some of the life skills Sofia has learned playing sports
“I’m so proud of her; for her it’s a huge accomplishment,” Dershko says, noting Sofia remembers gymnastics routines really well and picks them up fast. “The biggest thing for me was the independence she learned. She’d never been away from home like that before.”
Teacher Christina Annis calls the medal accomplishments “wonderful news” for a student who is so well liked by her peers and staff at White Oaks Secondary School.
“Sofia works extremely hard on her dance/ball/ribbon routines. She is absolutely dedicated,” says Annis. “Sofia is an inspiration to others and has proven that if you work hard you will succeed. She has shown that the sky is the limit. Sofia will have lots to show her friends at WOSS. I can easily see her becoming a passionate advocate for kids to join activities such as the Special Olympics or any other extracurricular activity that gets kids involved and being part of the community.”
Special Olympics Canada Games are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter competitions with Special Olympics World Games being held in the year immediately following national competitions.
The 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games was the world’s largest sporting event for athletes with intellectual disabilities, drawing 7,000 athletes from more than 180 countries around the world, 3,000 coaches and officials, 25,000 volunteers, 40,000 family members as well as thousands of spectators.