Wheelchair Curler Sonja Gaudet:
“Curling compliments the kind of person I am”
Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet, 47, is a multiple world gold medallist in curling and a national hall of fame inductee. She also happens to play her game from a wheelchair.
A horse accident June 1, 1997 caused Sonja to dislocate her back at the bra-line and sever her spinal cord. During her quick rehab, she tried different wheelchair and adaptive sports and activities. “Getting active and involved in sport again was a big part of my recovery and rehab back into my family life and my community.”
It wasn’t until 2003 that Sonja actually tried wheelchair curling—“I had participated in so many different sports before my injury, but no, never curled. I actually thought it was just a fun, recreational ‘game’ you played on ice!!” Very soon she saw that if she wanted to compete in a sport at a high level – wheelchair just might be it. “Curling is a very precise, detailed and strategic sport – all of which complement the kind of person I am.”
The results are beyond impressive—winning Paralympic gold with the Canadian wheelchair curling team 2006 in Torino, Italy, 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi. Her team also won golds in 2009 in Vancouver and 2011 at the World Wheelchair Curling Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.
Sonja is also the first wheelchair curler to be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. “This would not be possible without all of my great teammates and coaches over the years.”
Despite the amazing team wins, Sonja is most proud of having been the Canadian flag bearer at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games—”an honour and privilege I will remember forever...how much of an impact the power of sport has on peoples abilities and not their disabilities.”
Sonja curls in league play and practices at the Vernon Curling Club with Vernon wheelchair curler Ina Forrest, also on the gold medal winning Canadian team. As the National team, they train every second or third weekend and attend two-three bonspiels during their season before competing at the Worlds every year in February.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sonja plays in two leagues each week, practices three times a week and does yoga and strength training at the gym.
Right now, besides encouraging her athletic kids, snowboarding Alysha and hockey goalie Colten, Sonja’s immediate future athletic plans are to keep her position on the team, compete in Finland at the World Curling Championships and continue to train and compete towards the Paralympic Games in Korea 2018.
“Staying physically active and living a healthy lifestyle is very important for all women and perhaps even more so for those with a physical challenge of some kind,” she says. “Embrace your abilities, overcome your challenges, and believe in yourself!”
Freestyle Skier Mason Barzilay:
“I have an incredibly athletic spirit”
“I was definitely a speedster who needed a harness to keep me in check,” says freestyle skier Mason Barzilay of West Kelowna, 18.
In her first competition, the BC Series at Apex in 2009, 13-year-old Mason showed her true grit quickly. She won a silver in one moguls event and a silver and bronze in two big air events (Think jumps and tricks). This qualified Mason for the Junior Nationals at Silver Star and she earned another big air bronze. She was consequently named Rookie of the Year for the Apex Freestyle Club.
In Mason’s second year of competing, she got a gold in big air at a BC Series at Mount Washington and a gold in slope style (more jumps and tricks) at the BC Championships at Silver Star. At the BC Winter Games in Terrace, she took a silver in dual moguls and a bronze in what’s known as combined (slope style, single and dual moguls).
This kid was definitely on a roll. By Mason’s fourth competing year, she had achieved a silver in big air at the 2012 Junior Nationals at Le Relais, Val Saint-Come, Quebec as part of the BC Team.
A week later, at the Canadian Senior Nationals, she under-rotated her front flip on the bottom jump of the course and fell the rest of the way down. The result was an extremely serious, painful knee injury, major surgery and over six months of grueling physiotherapy. The 2012-2013 season was from the sidelines.
Like many ski champs, Mason started at the age of two. In fact, her mother Ronda was the 1991 Canadian Women’s Speed Skiing Champion and her dad Jim started the Kamloops Speed Skiing Association.
This is Mason’s sixth year competing. “More than anything I want to qualify for National Team, but I decided I did not want to be a part of [an organized] team so that I could spend as much time as possible working towards my goals. I hire coaches a few hours a day to coach me privately. I compete in a demanding and sometimes dangerous sport and it is of the utmost importance to keep at the top of my game... plus I want to be on top of that podium at the Olympics someday!”
The former Mount Boucherie High School honours student is also taking online courses through Thompson Rivers University and volunteers extensively.
Mason would like to continue competing for the next five years, push herself in her sport and encourage new and exciting things in free styling. “I have an incredibly athletic spirit... so I guess that helps too!”
Figure Skater Julianne Delaurier:
“I am very determined and I love to win.”
Kelowna’s Julianne Delaurier has been figure skating since she was three and competing since she was eight. The 16-year-old grade 11 Okanagan Mission Secondary School student has racked up a roster of impressive placings during her burgeoning career, including silver medals in the national 2014 Canadian Junior Women Championships and the 2014 Skate Canada Challenge, Junior Women. The previous year, she was Skate Canada Challenge Champion Novice Women champion. And the list goes on.
Julianne’s signature moves, for those in the know about figure skating are the split jump, inside edge spiral (somewhat like the arabesque in ballet) and the spread eagle. Her favourite music for her programs is classical, with piano and violin.
Her training schedule is pretty intensive—skating 14 hours a week, eight off the ice, plus two hours of dance. She takes Sundays off.
Recently, Julianne’s been donning her skates to try international competition and it’s only the beginning. She’s skated in Slovenia, Russia and in 2013 came in ninth in the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix in Poland.
“I am very determined and I love to win,” says Julianne. I am also a very hard worker in training and off the ice which pays off during competition. I am a very good spinner. My flexibility is also a strength.”
Julianne is truly grateful to her whole family (“my biggest fans!”) for supporting her career and cheering her on, as well as coaches Karen and Johnson Mongrain “who have helped me through the good and bad times.”
“Figure skating is a very difficult sport, but it is so amazing,” says Julianne. “It’s a little bit of everything...gymnastics, dance and skating.”
To read about more Winning Okanagan Women Athletes, visit our website at
The Winning Okanagan Women of Winter Sports
by Dona Sturmanis
Considering the world class winter sports venues located right here, it is easy to see why the Okanagan has produced so many winning winter athletes.
Think winter sports and silver medalist Kelsey Serwa jumps to mind. Her silver medal win at the 2014 Sochi Olympics as a member of the Canadian national ski cross team had us all cheering! The 25-year-old freestyler has also earned 16 World Cup podium finishes, is a X-Games gold medalist, two-time Olympian, world and national champion, two-time South American Champion, and has her sights set on even more.
And who doesn’t remember wheelchair curler Sonja Gaudet’s gold medal win at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics? Kelsey and Sonja are among several Okanagan athletes whose dedication and training have earned them elite status.
Read about even more Okanagan Winter athletes.