A very special cause

Recently the fifth annual Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast was held in Red Deer, and it was a terrific reminder of what a tremendous organization this really is.

Olympic gold medalist Jamie Sale was the keynote speaker, but ultimately the most important champions onhand were the local athletes who take part in the Special Olympics.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities have been competing locally in the Special Olympics since the 1960s. According to the local chapter, it all started with athletes from Michener Centre, Parkland School and the Special Education classes at Central Elementary School. These groups would compete against each other as well as other schools across Alberta.

In 1980, these groups came together to form Red Deer Special Olympics as an affiliate of Alberta Special Olympics which had been incorporated the same year. Eventually, the organization became known as Special Olympics Red Deer.

Today, Special Olympics Red Deer offers opportunities in five and 10-pin bowling, swimming, athletics, indoor and outdoor soccer, softball, floor hockey, curling and golf. More than 200 athletes are involved, and the programs are open to anyone with an intellectual disability. A person has to be at least 10 years old to take part, and there is no age limit.

It was a joy to see such strong community support at last week’s breakfast, and Sale was a fitting choice for guest speaker.

She shared about some of her own experiences as she worked to perfect her skills, and it was inspirational to hear of her determination.

As she said, many seem to think she’s had something of a ‘perfect’ life, but she pointed out there’s been obstacles to overcome. But even all the accolades in the world can’t match what Sale described as her greatest joy – that of being mom to her young son Jesse. It was clear that family – not that shiny gold medal she earned in Salt Lake City in 2002 – is what matters most.

And that’s perhaps what resonated most deeply with her audience at the breakfast. At the close of her talk, she circled back to focus on the folks that the breakfast was in honour of.

“I’m very, very proud of the athletes in this room, for being the best you can be. I love it. You are a wonderful inspiration to all of us, so thank you.”