Locals gathered at White Pines today, alongside local law enforcement, one of Special Olympics biggest supporters, to raise the flag, celebrating Special Olympics Day. Sault Ste. Marie is one of 50 communities across Ontario who celebrated this day, honouring the legacy of the past 50 years of Special Olympics while enthusiastically looking forward to the next 50.
Special Olympics Day also marks the 50-day countdown to the largest celebration of the 50th anniversary: the inaugural 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games, which are set to take place in Toronto in May of 2019, marking the first time ever that high school-aged students with intellectual disabilities will have the chance to compete on the world stage.
Local athlete Anthoine Jackson, who plays bocce ball, is one of the 35 participants attending these games. He told SaultOnline he enjoys being a part of the Special Olympics.
“I wanted to join because I love the sport and something just triggered, saying ‘you belong here,'” he explained.
“We are really fortunate to have such a great community here in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Manager of Major Games for Special Olympics Ontario Juli Prokopchukbrattan, “and the support for the community and their athletes in the community has been phenomenal… The community came together for the games and it will come together for our athletes to help celebrate them.”
Prokopchukbrattan said hosting events like this is an important way to bring awareness to what the athletes can do – which is anything that anybody else can do.
“They compete as athletes, just like any other athlete in the population,” she said. “When we go to games, when we go to competition, when we support our athletes, it’s just like supporting any other athlete in the community.”
Sault Ste. Marie Police Constable Shaun Beaulieu, who spearheaded the 2019 Special Olympic Winter Games here in the Sault and is involved in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, was honored for all of his hard work with this year’s Builder’s Award for Sport and Community, presented by Prokopchukbrattan.
“Once you start dealing with the athletes, and you see the smiles and the opportunities that you’re providing to those athletes, you know that those opportunities wouldn’t exist without Special Olympics for them,” Beaulieu, who’s been involved with the Special Olympics for the past 16 years, said, explaining why he got involved.
“It’s a great experience, and it’s nice to give back to our community.”
An important thing to note, Prokopchukbrattan said, is the progress the Special Olympics has made in the past 50 years.
“We only had one or two sports in the beginning – floor hockey was our beginning sport – and now we’re running into 18 sports in the province,” she explained.
“Where we’ve come from then, where we’ve come to now has been amazing, and where we plan to go from here is even more amazing, so keep watching for us.”
International Youth Games, based out of Toronto, is spearheading a fundraising campaign to help send over 2,000 athletes and 500 coaches to these games. Beaulieu said he’s hoping, through some local events, to be able to help contribute to this fundraiser. IYG is hoping to reach a goal of $50,000 on Special Olympics Day alone, and a grand total of $2 million – $1,000 per athlete participating. Anyone wishing to donate can do so here.