The Special Olympics offers a way around intellectual disabilities for many who otherwise wouldn’t be able to compete at a national level in athletics.
Nicole Palardy, 29, has been involved with the Special Olympics swim program for more than 10 years and the benefits of her involvement reach beyond just boosting her confidence.
“As parents we supported and encouraged her. First by driving her to practices in Calgary each week from mid September to April, and every third year until June or even July,” said Nicole’s father, John.
John said their involvement increased whenever Nicole made it to provincials, nationals and even the Canada Summer Games.
“We volunteered at meets and I also took Nicole to swimming in Olds a few times a week and encouraged her and unofficially coached her during those morning swims,” said John.
John said the benefits for Nicole included boosting her self-esteem and her accomplishments were even commented on by community members.
The family resides in Olds and John said the community there has greatly benefited from the Special Olympics programs.
“It gives athletic opportunities to these adults and greats a sense of challenge, fun, friendship, connectedness and the organization works hard to promote a sense of accomplishment for all of the athletes,” said John.
A breakfast was recently held here in Red Deer in support of the Special Olympics where local athletes were honoured and guest speakers David and Heather Nedohin spoke about their experiences with curling.
The Special Olympics functions at a variety of different levels including a local Red Deer Special Olympics and chapters all over the province. It then reaches to create a Team Alberta and further down the road a national team as well.
Nicole’s involvement was within the competitive swim program through both Red Deer and Calgary Special Olympics.
“Nicole competed at club level which meant going to a few meets in Alberta each year. She made provincials and nationals three times as well as taking part in the Canada Summer Games on two occasions,” said John.
John said the opportunities to travel for Nicole were extensive and that he and his wife, Joan, always attended.
“We always had pride in the accomplishments of our daughter and a closer bonding of our family as well as the enjoyment of the opportunities to travel,” said John.
Joan said one of the things that she truly enjoyed about Nicole’s involvement in the Special Olympics was the reinforcement of her belief in the importance to recognize similarities rather than always being focused on differences.
“The Special Olympics changes the perceptions and attitudes of society regarding the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities,” said Joan.
Special Olympics helps make the world a better place to live in as it promotes respect, acceptance and tolerance for intellectually disabled individuals, she said.
“Nicole earned dozens of medals from regional, provincial, and national levels of swimming with the Special Olympics.”
Joan said she learned the opportunities and possibilities for growth and development for the intellectually disabled are no different from every other individual.
“The Special Olympics is often the only place where people with intellectual disabilities have an opportunity to participate in their community and develop a strong belief in themselves,” said Joan.
The advantages of taking part in the Special Olympics are endless and both John and Joan agree that it benefited their daughter as much as their family as a whole with their three other children.
“We were inspired by the Olympians who worked diligently with a smile on their faces. Many were extremely competitive but if a friend beat them they congratulated him or her with a high five, a hug, or both. This is not always so in sports.”
For more information on the Special Olympics visit www.specialolympics.ab.ca.