What I Gain as a Volunteer

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

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About the author


Tim Mcilwraith is an operator at Celanese’s Edmonton site. In his spare time he enjoys golf, hockey, and spending time with family at the cabin. Tim has traveled parts of Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia, and is participating in his second marathon later this year.

There are 6 comments. Add yours.

  1. Susan Rahe says:

    Great work, Tim! Your perspective is helpful – and I especially like the Oath “….let us be brave in the attempt.”

  2. gretchen says:

    Tim, what a great way to live – cheering all of our teammates on and lending a helping hand when needed. Thank you for your contributions to your community.
    PS Don’t forget to log your hours!

  3. Kenny Warble says:

    “A little love and kindness always goes a long way.” So true! 🙂

    Thank you for your time and commitment to such a wonderful organization, Tim.
    Individuals, such as yourself, help make this world a much nicer place to live.

  4. James Cockerham says:

    “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.” Kids want to please and, in cases, we lose that with time. A refreshing read to say the least. A relatively small amount of time that impacts many lives in an ever-growing positive way; it is what volunteering is all about. Thank you for sharing with us, Tim.

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