Skating Her Way Towards Nationals

Story by Alley L. Biniarz

When asked if she is nervous for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games, Breanna Williams didn’t skip a beat when she said, “no!” 

“I’m not nervous at all!” She said enthusiastically when we spoke a week before the Games, which took place in Calgary late February to early March of 2024. At 15-years-old, Breanna was the only one from Windsor-Essex to qualify and competed in the Figure Skating division. Her current coach, Laurie Horne-Klassen, said that Breanna’s confidence comes forth because she was absolutely ready; out of six levels, Breanna competed in Level 5 with her Free Skate and Level 2 for Dance. Her lack of nerves didn’t stop her from taking home 3rd place in dance and Gold for her Level 5 Free Skate Solo. 

Breanna proudly displays her many gold medal accomplishments. Photo by John Liviero.

“Breanna is so happy and excited. When she found out, she ran to tell us,” her mother Bridget Williams says about Breanna’s win. Her victory was a combination of hard work and natural talent, Bridget says, as she has always been completely comfortable on the ice. Breanna has been skating since she was four years old and these National Games were a culmination of her years of training. Breanna’s coach Laurie explains that her schedule is rigorous, especially leading up to a big competition like this. “Like any athlete that’s training at this level, we don’t lighten up just because they’re Special Needs.”

Breanna is on the ice four times a week for a few hours at a time and her days off the ice are just as important to the training. Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for the ice, with a day off for stretches at home on Wednesdays. Then on Thursdays they’re back on the ice and Breanna is also expected to send Laurie a video from home showing off her progress. Fridays are set as stretch and strength training days or a day on the ice again, while the weekends Breanna is back to sending Laurie videos. “When preparing, I get to skate more and I love that!” Breanna shares. “I like doing figure skating very passionately,” she adds. 

Laurie has gone through this before with her previous athletes who have gone into Nationals and she says it’s a lot of paperwork and goal setting. “Her goal was going to Nationals and I wanted her to be ready for that step. I came to Windsor because I knew she could do it. I have total belief in this kid,” Laurie adds about the commitment on both ends. 

The two of them have been working together full-time for the last two years. One of Laurie’s colleagues, Susan, had been working with Breanna prior to that and Laurie gives a lot of credit to her for the state Breanna is in now. Susan has a psychology background and there were days when the majority of the skating lesson was done off the ice and talking in the stands to see where her athlete’s head was at. This is how Susan worked to guide Breanna through difficulties off the ice to help improve her skills on the ice. 

Laurie spent seven years watching Breanna from the sidelines, seeing her strengthen both as a person and a skater. Once Susan was ready to retire after an injury, she asked Laurie to take on Breanna. Laurie knew the commitment that would be involved and told her husband that it was at least going to be five years of this level of training. “Breanna is so talented, so I told him I had to take this on and I fully committed. We’re two years in and I don’t regret it at all.” 

Laurie accompanied Breanna to the National Games but just as an extra support from the stands and not as a coach. Breanna was fully equipped with professional coaches through the Games who were trained and prepared to guide her from there. As much as it was a competition, Breanna had a lot of down time in between skates and most enjoyed meeting new friends at the Games. “I was excited to meet new people there and to meet my training coaches,” Breanna says. “Skating has helped me to make friends from a long time ago,” she continues. Breanna shares that many of her friends weren’t able to make the physical trip to watch her in the Games, but that they were excited to watch the live stream online. “My mother and brother went and my mother’s family from Belgium were able to watch online and so did all of my friends.”

Sports like these are pivotal in helping to build lasting relationships, which is what these Games are known for. Breanna shows us how inviting and encouraging this environment can be and says that if there’s anyone who is just starting to skate, not to give up when it gets hard. “If it’s your first-time skating, keep skating. Don’t worry if you fall down; have fun. Don’t be nervous!” Along with her skating abilities, Breanna’s positive attitude is another contributor to her success. 

Laurie shares that she was hoping that they would move beyond the National Games, which was the qualifying event for Worlds. “Breanna has matured and grown so much in skating that if we do make it past Canadians, we’ll be ready for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2025,” she said prior to Nationals. Now that Breanna has taken home the Gold, it will all depend on her age and how many skaters they allow to attend Worlds in Turin, Italy. They’re keeping their fingers crossed, as this would be the next big goal for both Laurie and Breanna after these National Games. 

“Oh, we’re hoping, we’re pushing and we’re training hard for it. She’s putting a lot of time in on spins and she’s a great spinner. It shows that she’s put the time in.” Laurie says that coaching Breanna isn’t just a job, it’s a love she has for her and the sport. It’s the same for Breanna—it’s her passion for skating that keeps her on the ice and is what led her to skating in the first place. 

Breanna is seen with coach Laurie Horne Klassen. Photo by Danielle Earl Photography.

Along with the kudos to past coaches, Laurie emphasizes the importance of Breanna’s talent being recognized and her receiving private lessons right away. This early recognition of talent has allowed Breanna to work her way up to this point and having a great support system brings that extra effort and heart to fruition—it keeps athletes like Breanna going. Laurie says that there are so many possibilities for everyone with intellectual disabilities these days and it can often get overlooked in our area. “Parents, if you notice the talent, keep at it! It’s a great sport and it’s getting bigger. We’re getting the word out there and that gives other kids the opportunity and confidence to think, ‘Wow, we can really do that!’” 

Laurie wants to add another special thank you to The John McGivney Children’s Centre for putting the press release about Breanna out to the public. It’s with encouragement and exposure like this that continues to move the needle forward. 

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