Special Olympics means so much to so many
Movement holds fundraising lunch at Barrhead Legion last week
A festive atmosphere was in the air at the Barrhead Legion on April 27 when Special Olympics officials came to town for a fundraising spaghetti lunch.
An international entity, the Special Olympics movement is designed to give people who otherwise would not have the chance to be involved in sports that opportunity, said Special Olympics Alberta president Kirk DeFazio.
“These are athletes with intellectual disabilities who definitely can still contribute to society,” he said. “We’re dealing with human beings and making their world a better place.”
The entire point of the fundraiser lunch at the Legion was to bring attention to the movement in Barrhead, and support the many Special Olympics affiliates across the province, DeFazio added.
Barrhead is one of 30 such affiliates, he said, and is home to 40 athletes. In Alberta, there are close to 3,000 athletes, and that number is growing every day.
Getting these athletes involved in sports at a higher level results in outcomes both tangible and intangible. Besides improving their physical well being, the athletes also develop a sense of joy and higher self-esteem, while becoming good citizens, DeFazio said.
“It’s common for parents not to be aware of Special Olympics, and what it can do for their children,” he said.
When it comes right down to it, DeFazio said it’s up to the communities themselves to help keep Special Olympics running, as without local volunteers at all levels, nothing would get done.
“If you loved a sport when you were younger, get involved as a coach or something else,” he said. “It’s your chance to contribute to society.”
And if you’re unsure how you could be helpful because you’ve never coached before, DeFazio said Special Olympics will teach you how to be a good coach or trainer.
Getting involved in any capacity is a great way to derive a joy and fulfillment you may never have experienced before, he added.
“If you have the chance to work with special needs athletes, you get a huge intrinsic reward,” he said. “Their joy is contagious because they’re doing it for the love of the sport. These competitions are their Olympics.”
In fact, DeFazio said what often happens is the athletes are competing not to win, but simply to compete — any medals they win are just bonuses.
Beyond that, the competitions are also largely social events with sports mixed in, he said.
“One of the biggest outcomes is that the love to connect with friends they’ve met in the past,” DeFazio said. “That’s a common theme — meeting new friends beyond sports.”
In many ways, the Special Olympics are much like the regular Olympics. There are summer and winter games, held on alternating four-year cycles. The next international winter games are in 2013, while the next international summer games are in 2015.
In the coming weeks, DeFazio said the Canadian team for the 2013 winter games is expected to be announced. He’s hoping to have at least 10 Alberta athletes named to that team.
Anyone who is interested in helping the Special Olympics movement in Barrhead is welcome to contact Bill Chapman, the chairman of the Barrhead affiliate, at 780-674-4185.
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