Fruitvale man savours experience of World Games

“The atmosphere was electric. Every minute was better than the last."

Fruitvale’s Ben Postmus had to come back down to earth sometime, as the Team Canada golf coach landed in Trail on Monday after an incredibly successful and inspiring week at the 2015 Special Olympic World Games (SOWG) in Los Angeles.

Decked in red and white from his hat to his crimson painted toenails, an exhausted but beaming Postmus stopped by the Trail Times office on Monday to talk about his first Games experience.

From the Opening to the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, the event provided one highlight after another, said the Teck employee.

“The atmosphere was electric. Every minute was better than the last . . . I didn’t know what to expect, but wow, the bar is high now.”

As Team Canada’s contingent waited in the tunnel to walk into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the opening ceremonies, with such stars as Stevie Wonder and Canadian singer Avril Lavigne set to perform, an impromptu appearance by another Canadian pop phenom, Justin Bieber, totally floored Canada’s athletes.

“He left his bodyguards on the side, and he mingled with our guys, with hugs and kisses and high fives,  taking pictures and exchanging pins,” said Postmus. “I talked with him and he was really, really good. For all the bad-stuff he’s getting attention for, he interacted with all of Team Canada, went all the way through and then led us out onto the field. No one knew he was going to be there – it was awesome.”

It only got better from there.

In addition to Bieber, Team Canada rubbed shoulders with a number of Canadian athletes and personalities, from Olympic gold medalists Jamie Sale, Katrina LeMay Doan, and Mark Tewksbury to NHLer Craig Simpson, and TV personalities George Stroumboulopoulis and former TSN sportscasters come Fox media darlings Dan O’Toole and Jay Onrait.

But beyond Hollywood’s glitz and glamour were the athletes and the competition, which couldn’t have gone better for Canada or its Golf Team.

“For the first time golf was participating in the World Games, and we medalled four of our five golfers, it was amazing,” said Postmus.

Danny Peaslee of Manitoba and Tess Trojan of Ontario both won gold in Level 4 nine-hole golf, while Ontario’s Lorrine Russell finished second to Trojan, and Kyle Grummett of B.C. captured bronze as the team’s Level 5 golfer playing 18 holes.

Peaslee went shot-for-shot through four rounds with Andrew White of Special Olympics South Africa. But, in Saturday’s final round, Peaslee shot a 36 to beat out his South African competition by just one stroke to win the gold.

Ontario’s Kyle Koopman finished fourth by one stroke in Level 4 play, but had been eight strokes out of bronze going into the fourth and final round. He shot a personal best 39 on the last day, making up seven strokes to come within one putt of the podium.

“His whole story was the pump-up for Team Canada,” said Postmus. “A year ago we debated not even having him on the team because he was so withdrawn, wasn’t part of the group, and 150 athletes would be over there and he’d be off by himself in a corner.

“I just asked my wife (Debbie), who works in the field, and she said engage him and front-load him, give him as much information ahead of time, keep him engaged.”

Postmus took him under his wing and soon the young golfer was trading pins, interacting with athletes, and posing for photos in front of an ESPN cover board with arms raised in the ‘Rise Up’ theme of the Games. The emergence of Koopman socially and as a competitor was remarkable and significant for Postmus and Team Canada.

“Our Chef de Mission, Johnny Byrne from Alberta, made that the defining moment for Canada – the turn-around of this one particular athlete.

“He was the guy that made the big comeback, and ended up leading Team Canada out in the closing ceremonies.”

The World Games marked the first appearance of basketball, and bocce athletes, as well as golf. Their success helped Canada to an unprecedented 144 medal haul with 71 gold, 47 silver, and 26 bronze.

But in the end, medals weren’t what mattered (just try finding the final medal standings of the 165 countries). For these athletes the experience was key.

“They loved it, but when the competition was over, they were all cheering the next guy on, from other countries and sharing in their medal and their joy,” added Postmus.

“There’s no endorsements, there’s no big contracts coming out of this, there’s no big money attached to it, they are all there for the joy of sport, and the guy with the ribbon is just as happy as the guy with the gold.”

The SOWG welcomed 7,000 athletes from 165 countries, over 30,000 volunteers, and half a million spectators.