Red Deer prepares to host games in April
When Red Deer plays host to Special Olympics Alberta in April, it won't just be hosting an athletic competition — it will also be hosting a competition that is a form of therapy for some of its participants.
The Special Olympics was first introduced in the late '60s with the goal of giving people with intellectual disabilities a chance to participate in sport, live healthy lives and make new friends.
According to Theresa Garagan, who has been a coach with the Special Olympics for seven years, the event teaches athletes "life skills, teamwork, independence" and the ability to develop new friendships.
Garagan is also director of the Alberta Law Enforcement Torch Run, one of the Special Olympics' largest fundraising groups. She said she has seen first-hand the value that the games have added to the lives of the athletes she has coached.
While there are a number of success stories Garagan has witnessed in her years of involvement, she does remember one individual in particular who started out as timid, shy and quiet.
But after being around Garagan and the other police officers at the Law Enforcement Torch Run events and being part of the Special Olympics, the girl began to walk with her head up and started giving speeches.
"Her whole self-confidence changed from day to night. She was considered a lost soul and she's doing things now that she was told she could never do," Garagan said.
The Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary, which was founded by Dean Svoboda in 2004, shares a similar opinion that getting people with disabilities more socially involved is the best way to combat their disability.
Svoboda said, "Most therapies out there will have an unintentional effect of making people de-valued because they're trying to fix them. Special Olympics and programs like ours that just focus on the recreation and the social world, allow them to be themselves, and that gives them personal value and self-esteem."
Several people in the friendship society are also involved with the Special Olympics in some capacity and have been to past games like the ones that will be held April 19-21 in Red Deer.
The games will have over 600 coaches and participants and will feature four sports:
• five-pin bowling
• 10-pin bowling
This is the first time basketball will be included in the Alberta Special Olympics.
The winners of the games can move on to the national games in Vancouver during the summer of 2014.
John Byrne, vice president of sport for Special Olympics Alberta, has seen his share of games during his 14 years of involvement, and recommends coming to watch if you are in Red Deer.
"You'll see a huge range of athletic abilities and capabilities. Some of our higher functioning athletes will be pushing some of the most competitive times in the province," Byrne said.
Admission to all the events is free.
- By Ian Esplen