On June 13th, 14th and 17th, over 900 elementary and secondary school athletes with developmental disabilities competed at the TVDSB Special Olympics at TD Waterhouse Stadium.
Each day began with the London Police Pipes and Drums leading the students onto the field for opening ceremonies, and on the 13th and 14th the students were welcomed by Special Olympian and motivational speaker Robert Pio Hajjar from Ideal Way.
The athletes participated in a variety of events, such as wheelchair races, sprints, relays, softball throw, long jump, shot-put, and some special activities like He Shoots, She Scores, Fish Pond, and Frisbee Golf. Peer coaches, volunteers and parents were there to support their athletes and cheer them on.
A BIG thank you as well to all of the volunteers, sponsors and community partners who came together to make this year’s TVDSB Special Olympics such a success!
It was a high spirited three days, and Investing in Children is thankful for the opportunity to be a partner in this event for over 10 years. Each year we invite our staff and board members to come out and witness the events. It is an inspiring event to be at and witness the joy in the kids’ faces.
We were so pleased to receive a blog post from a mother of one of the special Olympic athletes. We invite you to read her blog as she reflects on the positive impact the day had on her and her son.
For the love of the game
originally posted on
Life, Meaning and how do we find it?
Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending the Special Olympics to watch my son compete in the elementary school events. This was my third year and it was, once again, the highlight of school field trips for me. Each year they begin with a processional. All the kids march in with their school banner held out in front of them. Bagpipes pipe them in as the Police band plays. A professional announcer calls out the names of all the schools. A professional motivational speaker opens up the games. Retired teachers, staff from several businesses and lots of community volunteers are walking around organizing and encouraging and smiling.
And as I watch, my wonderful, beautiful, autistic boy jumps and dances and sings and waves his hat in the air, proudly wearing his school colours and smiling with an openness and joy that brings tears to my eyes and brings this mama’s heart near to bursting with love and gratitude. Here, in this sacred space, these kids—some, like mine, with autism, some in wheelchairs, some with Down syndrome, some with complex challenges not easily defined—here they are all the same. Here, they all belong. Here, they are all athletes. That is how they are referred to by the announcers. That is how they are treated by all the event organizers. That is how they see themselves as they run and jump and throw.
Each event is set up exactly as it would be for any sports team or competition. Real equipment. Real timers. Real long jump pits and real race tracks. Real scores are kept and tallied and compared with real winners and losers. And through it all, these wonderful kids are treated with a respect and a seriousness that is often missing from other aspects of their lives. Here, they get to be ‘just like’ the other kids. For a few hours they get to experience what their ‘normal’ peers take for granted: the ability to compete, the chance to win, and the chance to lose; to experience the anticipation of waiting for race results and final scores. They mount the podium to receive ribbons, or they practice good sportsmanship as they cheer on their friends and classmates in spite of their own disappointments. There are no consolation prizes or participation ribbons.
For a few brief hours yesterday I got to experience being the typical parent at a typical track and field event. Except that in many ways it was not typical. Most track events don’t have wheelchair races. I imagine that relay races don’t require a peer coach. When I was in track and field long jumpers couldn’t hold their teacher’s hand as the ran down the course. There were so many things, large and small, that reminded me that this was not a typical experience. But it was nonetheless a better one. Because these kids were not competing with each other. Oh, they were quite serious about their ribbons and prizes. But competition was not the spirit of the day. Inclusion was. Respect was. The opportunity for everyone to participate was at the centre of everything.
I watched my son participate in a relay with a boy who had significant physical challenges, costing them a first place ribbon. And then I watched him laugh for joy when he was presented with the second place prize. We talked on the way home not about how they lost first place, but about how great it was for that boy to be on a team that placed second…probably a first for him.
Throughout the day I smiled and laughed and winked conspiratorially with other parents who were experiencing the same happiness as me. Walking through the gates of the stadium we had all dropped the weight of being ‘special needs’ parents and became simply ‘parents’ cheering on our athletes. For a few hours, we were free from stares and comments, misunderstandings and pity. For a few hours we were surrounded by people who saw our children not as burdens or exceptions but as athletes yearning to play in the games. For a few hours, we knew the joy of celebrating our special kids for the things that make them truly special…their humour, their perseverance, their sportsmanship, their kindness, their willingness to keep on trying.
There is an old sports expression: For the love of the game. That’s what I saw at Special Olympics. I saw students coming together from different backgrounds, with different needs and a variety of challenges, and playing for the love of the game. The freedom they found in that…the freedom to enjoy participating over winning, the freedom to celebrate an opponent’s victory as much as your own, the freedom to include everyone and exclude no one, regardless of ability…that freedom is something every athlete should get to experience. But I fear that in the fierce competitiveness and pressure of sports today, playing for the love of the game is often missed, often lost.
And so as I left the stadium yesterday, picking up once again the mantle of ‘special’ mama, I felt sorry for those ‘normal’ kids, competing in ‘normal’ games because I knew that no matter how many games they won or trophies that they accumulated, they would never know the pure joy of playing just for the love of the game that our kids experienced that day. And I said a special prayer of gratitude for the many and unexpected blessings that God has rained down on me, chief among them my beautiful boy and his amazing joie-de-vivre!