For more than half a century, Special Olympics sport training programs and competitions have empowered athletes with intellectual disabilities. Before Special Olympics began, it was widely believed that the low fitness levels and poor health of people with intellectual disabilities were the result of those disabilities. Toronto researcher Dr. Frank Hayden challenged these beliefs. Thanks to his work, the first Special Olympics Games were held in 1968 in Chicago, Illinois.
Dr. Hayden worked with famed sports broadcaster Harry “Red” Foster to ensure Canada was represented at the event. He traveled from Toronto to the Games with a floor hockey team. Inspired by the experience, Foster became a founding champion of the Special Olympics movement in Canada.
In 1969, the first Special Olympics Canada event was held in Toronto. In 1980, Special Olympics British Columbia began competitions with two weekend events and a few hundred participants. Now, Special Olympics BC provides year-round sport programs and competitions for more than 5,200 athletes province-wide.
Special Olympics programs and competitions create vital health and fitness benefits. They also help athletes build lasting friendships, experience pride and accomplishment, and create inclusive communities by opening hearts and minds to their abilities.
Special Olympics BC now has programs in 55 communities across the province, including Campbell River. Since 1984, Special Olympics BC–Campbell River has offered welcoming weekly sport programs during fall and spring. Sports range from bowling to floor hockey, from powerlifting to track and field, and nearly everything in between.
Honouring the work of Dr. Hayden and extending his legacy, Special Olympics BC–Campbell River inspires athletes to accomplish goals, stay physically active, and create powerful bonds and friendships.
Tye Cranton is a Special Olympics BC athlete in Campbell River who has competed in many different events. Cranton has participated in bowling, curling, and track and field, but his true passion is powerlifting. He has won medals in that event and, in recent years, earned the Special Olympics BC–Campbell River Spirit of Sport Award.
Cranton says that participating in Special Olympics has provided him with chances he never expected. “Special Olympics has let me have the opportunity to be someone extraordinary—to be an athlete, to be a role model, to be a good friend, and to just be me,” he says. “I have had lots of opportunities to meet wonderfully nice and incredibly generous people. I have made countless friends, and I have great respect for everyone that is involved with Special Olympics.”
It is not just athletes who benefit from being involved with Special Olympics BC. The life-changing programs are made possible by dedicated coaches and volunteer organizers.
Maureen Hunter is the Special Olympics BC–Campbell River Local Coordinator, a multi-sport coach, and a member of the Special Olympics BC Hall of Fame. Hunter has been a vital leader for Special Olympics throughout BC and Canada, and has been part of the movement since 1984.
“Special Olympics is not just about sports. It is about what happens through the power of sport,” she says. “I have worked with a lot of different individuals with intellectual disabilities, and one of the most common themes, especially with young adults, is the feeling of isolation and low self-esteem. We can only imagine what it must be like to be constantly reminded about what it is you cannot do or have. Or to experience the loneliness that is felt after high school.”
She continues, “Special Olympics opens doors that are unimaginable to someone who has never been involved. All of a sudden, your life is about what you can do and what you can achieve. It is about what you learned at practice today, or the fact that you swam four lengths instead of two, or you are now swimming without the life jacket, or you got your first strike in bowling, or hit the ball for the first time. It’s about the friendships you make and it creates a new purpose in life. It is about celebrating success.”
Hunter ends with a confident assertion: “I promise, if you let yourself become involved as a coach, volunteer, or athlete, it will be one of the most joyous and humbling experiences. Your life will be changed forever.”
Without the passion, hard work, and enthusiasm of Hunter and fellow volunteers, Special Olympics would not be possible. Generous sponsors and donors make a difference with their financial support to create these empowering and inclusive opportunities for our friends and neighbours with intellectual disabilities.
New athletes with intellectual disabilities are always welcome. Volunteers are wanted for a wide range of roles, where you will use your skills and heart to support athletes and create inclusion. If you volunteer, donate, and participate with Special Olympics BC–Campbell River, you will change lives—including your own.
Please visit www.sobccampbellriver.ca
to find out how to get involved and make a difference.