Angel on her shoulder

100 Mile teacher Susan Soules has strong bond with former student, Special Olympian Tony Carter

Local teacher Susan Soules and former student and current Special Olympian Tony Carter remain close friends after meeting in 100 Mile House in 1998.

Local teacher Susan Soules and former student and current Special Olympian Tony Carter remain close friends after meeting in 100 Mile House in 1998.

Telling their story, tears fall soon and often.

Local teacher Susan Soules and former 100 Mile House student Tony Carter met at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School when she was a special-education teacher in 1998. Susan was immediately drawn to the always energetic and cheerful Tony, and, 16 years later, that connection remains.

Along with two teenage daughters, who grew up knowing Tony as being like a member of the family, Susan travelled to Vancouver in July to watch him compete as a member of the five-person Team BC soccer squad at the 2014 Special Olympics National Summer Games at the University of British Columbia.

The 32-year-old Mission resident is an all-around athlete these days, doing all kinds of sports, like floor hockey, bowling, softball and track and field.

On the soccer pitch, Tony is fast.

“You’d watch him and he’d be ‘zip-zip-zip’,” explains Susan, zigzagging her hand.

“He was right ahead of the game, anticipating the next play. The energy at UBC was pretty surreal. I was pretty proud.”

Team BC won gold. Tony brought the medal with him to 100 Mile House when he visited the Soules family in mid-August, something he does every year. He would also visit his mom, Diana Carter, who passed away last year, when she was alive, and he still sees his friends at the Cedar Crest Society for Community Living when he comes up.

While he now leads an active and busy life in Mission, working for a downtown business association cleaning up the streets and volunteering at a thrift shop during the week, life in 100 Mile House was a struggle for Tony, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. He lived with an alcoholic mother who didn’t have a vehicle, a long way from town on Horse Lake Road with a handful of stray cats and dogs.

Money was tight. For cash, Tony took his mom’s empties on his bike to Lone Butte, or traded them in town on his lunch break from school.

Asked what he remembers about living here, Tony chokes-up, then answers.

“It was good. I quite enjoyed it.”

Susan says Tony was a big help to his mom.

“She loved Tony. She was very proud of Tony.”

Whatever the circumstance, Tony looks on the bright side, she says, adding that is what’s so endearing about him – his positive outlook and his motivation to do more.

“When you get to know Tony, he’s such a great man.”

Susan, who now teaches at Mile 108 Elementary School and has two small twins with husband Corey Peterson, taught Tony between 1998 and 2001, when he relocated to the South Cariboo from Mission with his mom. When Susan wasn’t his teacher anymore, she told him it’s no longer “Ms. Soules,” you can call me Susan.

“I said I will always be your friend.”

It was bittersweet seeing Tony move back to Merritt after high school. Susan would miss him, and she worried what direction he would take. But she recognized there are more opportunities for him there, and, as sharp-minded and persevering as he is, he seems to be thriving.

Everything about the Summer Games in Vancouver was “awesome,” Tony says. Next, he mentions going to Kamloops for a provincial floor hockey championship in February, and he’s looking forward to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in July 2015, which the Team BC soccer squad qualified for in Vancouver.

Earlier this summer, Susan told Vancouver Sun reporter Yvonne Zacharias that Tony “is an angel on my shoulder.”

Asked about that quote, Susan takes a moment and holds back tears and Tony smiles and does the same.

“He’s just always looking out for me. He’s always concerned. He’s very kind-hearted.”

“Always,” Tony adds. “I’ve always been like that.”