For the past two years I have volunteered for Special Olympics Edmonton as a track and field coach. The Special Olympics’ motto is: “Committed to enriching the lives of Albertans with an intellectual disability through sport.” Each Tuesday evening in the winter we practice at the Kinsmen Sports Centre in the heart of Edmonton’s river valley and during the summer months we move outdoors to Foote Field. We train from February until the “Special Olympics” held in mid-June.

After preparing for months, the big track meet was held on June 12 at the University of Alberta. More than 100 athletes from all over Alberta, including the 25 athletes from our Edmonton squad, competed in events such as sprints, long distance runs, relay races, shotput and long jump.  Volunteers and officials sprang into action early to set up all the equipment and lay out pylons and markers for all of the field events.  It’s incredibly exciting for athletes and volunteers alike because this is what we have been working for all year long!

One of the amazing things about watching these events is how much compassion the athletes have for one another.  As soon as each race finishes, you will find everyone hugging, high fiving, and congratulating their “competitors” and coaches.  This is what makes the Special Olympics different. Who typically always gets the biggest cheers and applause from the crowd during normal sporting events? It is always the first place finisher or the winning team, right?  Well, not in the Special Olympics. If an athlete is struggling or has a disability that makes it more difficult for them to finish, you’ll always find that person receiving the most encouragement from the crowd.  It’s more often than not that the little guy or the person at the back of the pack needs your support more than the person who always wins.  A little love and kindness always goes a long way.

The Special Olympics motto infers that the athletes are the ones who benefit from these programs.  But as a volunteer, I feel I gain even more.  Each Tuesday I am greeted with hugs, high fives, and smiling faces.  Everyone is excited and appreciative to be there — and it shows.  It reminds me a little bit about what it is like to be a kid again.  And that’s something we could all use a little more of in our lives.  I’ve been lucky enough to be a part the Special Olympics for two years, and hope to be a part of it for many more years to come.

“Let us win, but if we cannot win, then let us be brave in the attempt.”
– Special Olympics Oath