Creston Special Olympics has operated in Creston for the last three decades. Special Olympics was started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the 1950’s-1960’s. Up until that time people with intellectual disabilities were not recognized as having the ability to participate in community sports programs and were often left on the sidelines or placed in institutions. Eunice had a sister with intellectual disabilities who engaged in a variety of family sports such as swimming, sailing, and baseball. She recognized that through sports, her sister was able to become strong, confident and able to engage in community events with her. Eunice fought for justice and was an advocate for sports during her college years. She recognized that through sport and movement, people with intellectual disabilities could achieve more than people believed and so the first work for Special Olympics in the United States began. In Canada, a researcher, Dr. Hayden, was testing children with intellectual disabilities to see how physically fit they were and discovered that they were fifty percent lower than their peers. This was assumed to be a direct result of their disabilities. Dr. Hayden was determined to challenge this assumption and he became involved in Eunice Shriver’s work. He and Harry Foster, a businessman, humanitarian joined the first international Special Olympics games in Chicago and Canada was represented by a floor hockey team.
In 1969 Special Olympics Canada had its first Canadian event in Toronto. In 1980 Special Olympics BC was formed. In over 55 communities throughout BC, there are Special Olympics sporting activities designed to engage our athletes in a variety of highly skilled sporting events not only on a regional level but also a provincial and international level. Where is Creston in this large organization? We have over 60 athletes engaged in a variety of continual sports programs. Our athletes and volunteers are dedicated and are always participating in ongoing community engagements and sporting events. Our local committee consists of eight members who meet once per month to discuss the needs of the programs. Coaches and volunteers give freely the time and effort to meet the challenges of maintaining the variety of programs offered. Our volunteers and athletes fundraise for competitions and the costs of travel to events that take place far from Creston. We use different venues in which to run our programs. This requires proper planning and continual community engagement. Sports such as bowling, floor hockey, snowshoeing, swimming, curling, baseball, bocce, weightlifting, and golf, plus a club fit program to keep in shape for these sports are all organized and coached by our volunteers. Our volunteer coaches learn specific skills through the National Coaches Certification and Special Olympics courses. Training often involves travel, to adjoining towns or the lower mainland. Each of the sports programs consists of twelve to sixteen-week sessions once a year. We usually have two or more sports programs going on in the community at the same time. Creston Special Olympics youth swimming had a sixteen- week program and was held during the day to allow students from two elementary schools and the high school to attend.
In order to compete at Regionals, Provincials, Nationals and hopefully Internationals, coaches and athletes must prepare in advance to qualify in these levels of competition. It is an ongoing process. One of our coaches Shelagh Schmidt received the Governor Generals award for having volunteered over 30 years to our organization. Shelagh and Barb Minichello helped bring the organization to Creston. Through Special Olympics speaker’s mentorship program, Francis Collison spoke to over 600 people in Vancouver at the Sports Celebrities Festival.
Last year the Provincial summer games were held in Kamloops and we sent nine athletes. Three were swimmers, one was a powerlifter and we also had a team of five bowlers. One bowler earned a medal and one swimmer earned two medals. This May we are sending our swimmers to a tournament in Castlegar. This past March a group of our floor hockey players went to competitions in Kelowna for a regional qualifier, our bowlers went to a regional qualifier in Trail. All of this takes planning, money, and commitment.
We fundraise through our bottle drive as well as our raffle. Tickets are being sold at the grocery stores as well as kiosks throughout town until the end of May. They are five dollars, with a thousand printed. First prize is a round-trip ticket from Cranbrook to Vancouver for two people, second prize is a hand carved set of antlers, third prize is a handmade bench with a planter.
We wish to thank everyone for the outstanding support Special Olympics receives in the community. There’s more to Special Olympics than just sports. There is the ability for our athletes to participate in social activities and be included in the community. We have our annual local general meeting June 22nd where we celebrate our achievements from the past year and elect the local committee for the upcoming year. We always need volunteers and coaches. This year is a great time to get off the sidelines and join an organization where you can make a difference, learn new skills and be proud of your efforts. Just witnessing the way our town practices inclusion with our wonderful athletes makes this community a great place to live in.
Special Olympics is not only an avenue to achieving one’s specific sporting goal. It is a cohesive group which enhances one’s daily life.
“Let me win however if I cannot win let me brave in the attempt”