Working with Special Olympic athletes reminds those who have found success in sports of the joy they had when they started the sport.
“It’s so inspiring to see them,” said Jocelyn Peterman, Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Canadian mixed curling champion. “When my own competitions were getting so competitive and we would show up to practice and not want to be there. The Special Olympic athletes were just the opposite. They would show up with big smiles on their face and excited to play.”
Peterman, a Red Deer native, joined figure skater David Pelletier, an Olympic gold medalist and member of the Special Olympics Champions Network, to be the special guest speakers of the 10th annual Special Olympics Breakfast Tuesday at the Westerner.
“There’s nothing like the purest form of sports,” said Pelletier. “It’s the best way to be active for the right reasons. We get caught up wanting to be popular, win a gold medal, make money and be famous. None of this exists in the Special Olympics. They’re just people being active for the right reasons.”
Every year the event raises money for the local Special Olympics program. Jerry Tennant, Special Olympics Red Deer Chairman, said they have about 250 to 300 athletes locally and they make sure every one gets to compete in an event outside of Red Deer every year.
“Athletes can progress up to the international level, but for most of them its just a weekly program where they come out, have fun and compete and practice with their friends,” said Tennant. “For a lot of them it’s their social life.”
The breakfast typically raises about $15,000 for the local program, Tennant said their annual budget is about $115,000 and about 70 to 75 per cent is fundraised. The money raised goes towards buying uniforms, paying for facilities, transportation, coaches and competitions.
The athletes train and compete every week. Provincials are scheduled for 2017 in Medicine Hat, followed by nationals in 2018 in Nova Scotia. Internationals take place in 2019 at a yet to be determined place.
Peterman has coached Special Olympics softball in Red Deer and curling in Calgary while she completed her degree at the University of Calgary. It started as a course requirement, but she was hooked.
“It was hard to squeeze it in to my schedule when I’m competing, but it’s so much fun,” she said. “Each time I left feeling happy I went and happy I was able to fit it in my schedule. They’re so inspiring.”
Pelletier’s figure skating gold medalist partner, Red Deer native Jamie Sale, compared the Special Olympics to her experience in the ‘generic Olympics.’
“That’s what we call it,” she said. “When we watch the Special Olympic athletes it really brings us back to being kids and why we started playing sports. The true meaning of sport is started by the play, the joy and the fun you have doing it. They all exemplify that.”
Sale’s father coached Special Olympic athletes in Red Deer, and Sale was hooked when she went to her first event. From there she joined the Alberta Special Olympics board, before moving onto the national board where she sits today.
For more information on the local Special Olympics visit www.specialolympics.ab.ca/red-deer.