First published in the Lethbridge Herald Wednesday, October 16, 2019.
Special Olympics’ mission, in its 51st year, remains as vital now as it did when the movement was founded, according to Special Olympics Alberta website. The 158 local athletes are reaping the benefits with strong community support.
Special Olympics' mission is to provide year-round sport training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Through the power of sport, individuals discover strengths and abilities, confidence and joy, on and off the field of play.
Special Olympics Alberta and Para-Swimming have been part of the Alberta Summer Games since 2004 when they were hosted by High River and Okotoks.
Lethbridge will play host to up to 40 Special Olympic athletes ages 12 to 22 at next July’s Alberta Summer Games. Special Olympics swimmers will compete in 50m and 100m distances in free, back, and breaststrokes and in 4 x 50m free and medley mixed gender relays.
Wendy Nelson, Special Olympics Swim Coach has been involved for many years. This past summer she took a team of swimmers to the Western Canada Summer Games. Nelson anticipates having local swimmers compete in the Games next summer.
Our local Special Olympians can train and compete in more than just swimming. The Lethbridge program offers 13 sports including 5 pin and 10 pin bowling, basketball, bocce, curling, figure skating, floor hockey, golf, powerlifting, rhythmic gymnastics, softball, swimming, and walking.
The first United Sports Special Olympics program began in 2015. It joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
In 2017, the first Unified Sport event was hosted in Lethbridge. The Unified Sports Bocce Tournament in partnership with the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association brings together students of similar age and ability.
Over the years, local athletes have received recognition for their successes.
In 2008, Tyler Birch was inducted into the Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame in the Athlete category for alpine skiing and bowling. Birch won a pair of silver medals in alpine skiing at the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
The Lethbridge Sport Council Achievement Awards includes a Special Olympic Athlete award, sponsored by the Lethbridge College Kodiaks. Previous winners include Marsha Oudman for swimming in 2012 and Mary Jean Lawson for swimming in 2015.
Explore the Lethbridge Sport Council Sport Directory, Special Olympics, to find out more about local programs or call the Lethbridge Special Olympic office at 403-320-6776.
Throughout the year, Lethbridge Sport Council will publish articles about each of the 14 sports included in the 2020 Alberta Summer Games showcasing local programs, people and places.
For more local sport information visit www.lethbridgesportcouncil.ca