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With 18 medals adorning her neck representing five years competing in provincial, national, and international track and field events, 21-year-old Kelowna resident Jeneka Greif has defied the odds. The latest in her hardware collection are a silver and a bronze earned at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles this summer.
Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy as a baby, doctors had prepared Greif’s parents for the probability that their daughter would never be able to walk, and likely never speak. Not one to give up, she has proven the contrary.
Like many students this fall Greif is back on campus with a focus on a career beyond competition. She is in the midst of earning a Preparing for Access to Careers and Education (PACE) certificate from Okanagan College’s Adult Special Education department.
“Right now, I want to focus on my education and on my future,” says Greif. “Definitely something in sports, maybe in personal training or in nutrition. I needed to bring focus to my life, and I was inspired to come to Okanagan College where I could be set on that path. Taking the PACE program is a first step.”
The PACE program aims to develop student success skills with a focus on career awareness and the development of appropriate workplace attitudes, values, and behaviours. Students like Greif develop communication, time management, stress management, and conflict resolution skills that will support them in the pursuit of jobs and continued education.
“Special Olympic athletes can compete right up into their senior years,” explains Greif. “The way I see it, taking a few years off right now to get an education, that’s most important. I started the sport five years ago, so I know that with the right training schedule I’ll be able to get back into it, but now is the time to build a career.”
Training for the Special Olympics World Games had Greif in the gym six days a week, two hours a day. She describes competing on the international stage as an incredible experience and the chance of a lifetime. During the two weeks spent in L.A. as one of 114 Canadian athletes (22 on the track and field team) she also attended an L.A. Angels baseball game, walked in the opening and closing ceremonies, and met pop superstar Justin Bieber.
“What was most inspiring though was meeting the athletes from different countries,” she says. “It made me realize how fortunate we are in Canada for the resources we have available to us as athletes with special needs, from healthcare to equipment, that enable us to practice our sport.”
The silver Greif earned was in the 4x100m relay where she was the anchor, and she earned a bronze in shot put.
“These games were definitely more challenging, with more countries, and more levels to compete against. But what I’ve learned is that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve it.”
This is the same perspective Greif is applying to her studies at the College. After the PACE program, she hopes to continue on to obtain a Supported Access to Modified Education (SAME) certificate.