Sky’s the limit for Special Olympics racer

Luke Smith won the top spot in slalom at his only competition of the year in Kelowna in February.

Luke Smith is going places, fast.

Smith, in only his first year as a member of the Bulkley Valley Special Olympics Alpine Ski Team, won the top spot in slalom at his only competition of the year in Kelowna in February.

Because of his result Smith was moved from the Novice division, the first-year ski category, to Advanced Division 1, the second highest category.

If he continues to improve at this rate, Smith is on track to become one of the best in the world, coach Shannon Hurst said.

“He is a total delight to work with and travel with and I’m very excited and optimistic about the future,” Hurst said.

“I’m confident Luke has what it takes to be one of the best.

“Providing we don’t have any unforeseen complications in the next few years, there is no doubt in my mind that Luke is podium bound at regionals, provincials, nationals and the worlds.”

The 17-year-old Grade 12 Smithers secondary school student has been skiing since the age of two but his prowess on the hill was not passed down by his parents, Rod, his father, said.

Rod began skiing as a teenager and his wife, Donna, is not a skier at all.

“I’m not a good skier,” Rod said.

“Luke leaves me behind on the hill.

“He stands at the bottom and waits for me.”

A self-professed speed demon, Luke has always been a strong skier, but he’s worked hard on refining his racing technique this season.

“It’s fun,” Luke said, a wide smile spreading across his face.

“I like the speed.”

Contributing to Luke’s success is a partnership between the Special Olympics and Hudson Bay Mountain and the Smithers Ski and Snowboard Club.

The partnership allows him to practice racing using gates and Smith practices many more times than his counterparts in other areas of the province.

“The ski hill and the ski and snowboard club got on board with the Special Olympics program and have been awesome,” Rod said.

“If it wasn’t for those two, this program would not happen.”

Once the snow melts, Hurst said she has planned an intense dryland training program to prepare Smith for next ski season.

Hurst has her sights set very high for Luke.

She believes he has the right stuff to qualify for the World Championships in Austria in four years.

“He has the strength and solid background in skiing,” she said.

“He has the ability to listen and follow instruction and the drive to be the best.”

While it’s nice to win, Luke and Rod said the social aspect of the Special Olympics program is what they find especially rewarding.

“As they become adults and get out there in the world, it’s pretty exciting for them to be able to socialize with these other athletes,” Rod said.

“It’s pretty amazing the opportunities that are out there for him.”

But more volunteers are required to make sure the Special Olympics program can continue to expand and evolve.

“We know there’s more people who want to take part but we need more coaches and assistant coaches or the program can’t grow,” Rod said.

For more information on the Bulkley Valley Special Olympics program, call Rod at 250-847-9004.