The words “Always a participant, never a spectator” are fitting to Sallie Szanik.
When one daughter joined Highland dancing, Szanik didn’t just watch from the wings, she became part of the dancing group. When a second daughter decided to try skating, Szanik was right there to lend her support to the skating club. And when her son, Wade, started making waves with the Special Olympics swimming program in Prince George in 1989, Szanik began an association with Special Olympics that has taken her to the present day.
Szanik's induction into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame as a Special Olympics coach is just one more accomplishment in a career that has been stuffed with many.
When Szanik first got involved with the Special Olympics swimming program as a parent, she recognized the need for more coaches. Even though she was a competitive swimmer in her high school days she did not feel she had the knowledge to coach. She decided, therefore, to take a Level 1 technical swimming course through the National Coaching Certification Program. She then took her Level 1 theory course and today holds Level 3 technical and theory certification.
Szanik, a Prince George resident since 1974, has coached on local, provincial, national and international stages over the years.
Provincially, Szanik guided swim teams at the B.C. Special Olympics Summer Games in 1993, 1997 and 2001. The 2001 Games were held in Prince George and she was part of the bid committee that brought them to the city. For 18 months leading up to the Games, she served as the liaison between the local organizing committee and B.C. Special Olympics.
Szanik has coached at the national level for Special Olympics three times – 1994, 1998 and 2002. The year 2001 also brought a national highlight for Szanik when she attended the Canada Games in London, Ontario, as a coach with the B.C. swim team. Those Games marked the first time Special Olympics athletes were invited to compete in swimming.
“Our training program was combined with Team B.C.’s generic swimmers and the results were astonishing,” Szanik said. “One of our male swimmers achieved all gold and our three other swimmers each medaled or made the finals."
Internationally Szanik was one of two Team Canada swim coaches for the 1999 World Special Olympics Games in Raleigh, North Carolina. This coming June, she will attend the 2003 World Special Olympics Games in Dublin, Ireland as Team Canada’s head coach for aquatics.
“This has been my biggest challenge, as I head the aquatics team of 16 athletes, four coaches and one sports manager from across Canada,” Szanik said. “Our training program has been intense as we strive toward making Team Canada one of the best prepared teams at the Games.”
Szanik, married 32 years to husband Richard, was also part of the local committee that raised more than $750,000 to build the diving towers in the Prince George Aquatic Centre. She received the City of Prince George’s Recreation Award of Merit in 2001.