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The Smithers duo

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

If Ben Walker had his way, there would be a life-size statue of Dan Hamhuis in their hometown of Smithers, B.C.

If Hamhuis had it his way, it would be of Walker.

Walker, a 23-year-old living with an intellectual disability, refers to Hamhuis as his brother, mentor, friend and inspiration, he has since the pair first met 10 years ago.

Ditto for Hamhuis, who reciprocates every compliment.

The Smithers duo made the 2011 Sports Celebrities Festival even more unique this year as Walker was chosen from over 200 Special Olympics athletes to be the spokesperson for the event alongside Hamhuis.

Walker is a drummer in the church band, works at Tim Hortons and volunteers with the Smithers Steelheads of the CIHL, travelling with the team while caring for water bottles, pucks, sticks and jerseys.

He’s got a lot on his plate, but cheering for Hamhuis has been Walker’s top priority since the defenceman played for the Prince George Cougars. Walker, a Canucks fan at heart, remained loyal to Hamhuis when he was drafted by Nashville and even through six seasons with the Predators.

Then, as Walker joked during his moving speech at the annual banquet held on Thursday, October 27th at the Vancouver Convention Centre, “the Vancouver Canucks came to their senses and signed Hamhuis.”

The logo Hamhuis sports on his chest is now tattooed on Walker’s left arm as a badge of honour, one that symbolizes both his love for the Canucks and Hamhuis.

“It’s definitely exciting to be here and it’s definitely emotional,” said Walker, who also plays drums in his dad’s band and has a tattoo of their logo on his right arm.

“Never in my whole entire life did I ever think I’d get to go on stage and do this with my brother. We’ve come from two different families, but it’s like I was telling Dan, I consider myself a Hamhuis as well. I’ve been near and dear to his family and him to mine.

“It’s amazing sharing in this with Dan and what an amazing night for Special Olympics.”

Each Canucks player and members of coaching staff and management were paired with a Special Olympics athlete for the dinner and formal program of the evening, but before things got serious, those in attendance had the chance to get their picture taken with various Canucks in the photo booth, and compete against the Canucks in a mix of games, including table hockey and Nintendo Wii. All funds raised at the event befitted Special Olympics BC.

Walker was introduced to Special Olympics BC six years ago by his aunt Jeannie Cramer, who suggested he try his hand at bowling. The five and 10 pin shark, who competed at the 2010 National Summer Games, is now routinely at the top of his class in competition demonstrating how far athletes with disabilities can go with support from the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics BC strides to provide individuals with intellectual disabilities opportunities to enrich their lives and celebrate personal achievement through positive sport experiences, and the organization is involved with more than 3,700 athletes in 55 communities across BC.

Events such as the Sports Celebrities Festival provide vital funding for Special Olympics BC and the Canucks are always up to help a worthy cause.

“You see all the athletes around here today and they’re athletes just like we are and unfortunately they might not get the opportunities that some of us had,” said Hamhuis. “Coming together to help them raise money for their sport is something I think everyone loves to do. I know I do, especially with my buddy Ben here. He’s a local legend in Smithers and proof of the positive impact Special Olympics has.”

The 2011 Sports Celebrities Festival, hosted by CTV News at Six anchor Tamara Taggart and Canucks play-by-play man John Shorthouse, with comedian Brent Butt providing the entertainment, was the 12th event featuring a partnership between Special Olympics BC and the Canucks for Kids Fund.

TC Carling, executive director of the Canucks for Kids Fund and vice president of communications & community partnerships for the Canucks, said this event is just as beneficial to the Canucks as it is the athletes being helped.

“Every time our players involve themselves in our community initiatives such as SCF, they get as much or more out of it then the young athletes that they’re working with,” said Carling. “This is an event that is very unique because often times I’ve seen the players with their buddies down at the arena months after the fact. This year was very special as Dan Hamhuis and Ben Walker have known each other for so long.”

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