Heather Roberts is one of those people who jumps in feet first to help.
For over three decades in Red Deer, Roberts has been an integral part of the Special Olympics community in the city and has contributed in countless ways to make sport more accessible for all.
It is that work that earned Roberts the 2021 Lifetime Sport Achievement Award sponsored by the City of Red Deer.
“I was totally shocked. It is such an honour,” said the 65-year-old Roberts, who is the 57th recipient of the award.
“There are so many deserving people in Red Deer. Totally unexpected. Very grateful and thankful. There are sure a lot of people that have been involved along the way. It’s never been just me.”
The Red Deer Sport Awards Committee in conjunction with Alberta Sports Development Centre – Central, who accepted a number of nominations for this year’s award, said the dedication that nominees showed to sport and volunteering in the community is impressive.
“It just goes to show the longstanding commitment to sport in the community and we only wish to keep highlighting and encouraging those individuals year after year,” said Gary Seher, a member of the Red Deer Sport Awards Committee.
“Long term volunteer commitments of excellence to sport development have significant impacts on healthy community development; all nominees for the 2021 award modelled this so well.”
Roberts explained that her work with Special Olympics started back in Saint Paul, Alta., where they needed a hand with swim coaching and she figured why not.
From there she’s coached at every level of the Special Olympics – locally, nationally and internationally. She says it may sound cliché but she’s learned as much from the athletes over the years.
“I have learned so much and had so many wonderful experiences and met so many amazing people,” she said.
“Both athletes and coaches. I got way more out of it than I ever put into it.”
Roberts remembers one particular athlete who had many cognitive and physical challenges. After some difficult moments, Roberts managed to get the athlete to the competition and she finished last, by a long shot. It was later, during the banquet when a picture of that athlete competing, was shown to the entire audience.
“You never really knew how much she comprehended, but I tell you, she saw her picture on that screen and she had the biggest smile on her face, she was just so thrilled,” Roberts remembered.
“That was in 1986 and that was probably the thing that really hooked me.”
Roberts jokingly called herself a “jack of all trades and master of none.” She’s coached swimming, athletics and curling, all sports she’s dabbled in herself. For the last 20 years, she’s been curling head coach for Red Deer’s Special Olympics branch where she works with both competitive and recreational athletes.
“We’ve got a curling team that won a bronze medal in 2008 in Quebec at a competition and another that won a gold medal in St. Albert in 2012. It’s fun to work with those guys, but it’s also a lot of fun to work with the other fellas too,” she said.
With three kids, Roberts said it wasn’t always easy to commit extra time to volunteer, but for all the moments she has, there are so many memories she’ll cherish forever.
“It’s so rewarding. The best part is watching their successes,” she said.