By Mark Dreger
Kelowna residents gathered in City Park Saturday to participate in the 6th Annual Motionball event to raise funds for the Special Olympics Canada Foundation.
About 350 athletes and 60 volunteers competed in the Marathon of Sport event with each team having at least one of the 44 Special Olympians on their roster. Athletes played football, soccer, Frisbee, basketball, ball hockey, and even human foosball to name a few.
“We want to educate young professionals on intellectual disabilities and the Special Olympics (SO) movement,” said Donnie Ungaro, motionball co-event director for Kelowna. “Two per cent of the Canadian population has an intellectual disability, yet only 20 per cent of those are in Special Olympics programs, so we want to get our generation involved in the movement as donors and coaches and sponsors and helping out with it.”
Motionball wants to help people integrate with Special Olympics’ athletes so that when they see someone with a disability on the street, they are encouraged to talk to them instead of shying away.
Peter, an SO athlete who attended his second Motionball event, enjoys meeting new people and having fun playing sports.
“I lot of people know that there’s people with disabilities that want to compete in sports just like people without,” Peter told the Capital News. “I did want to join sports when I was growing up in school. I did a few like track and field, but I didn’t really start doing sports until I joined Special Olympics.”
Peter has been a part of Special Olympics for four years and he will be playing in soccer nationals next summer.
Fellow special Olympic athlete Claire was the youngest participant in Motionball this year at 9-years-old. Claire said she likes playing basketball and hockey, but her favourite is ribbon gymnastics where she does cartwheels, handstands, and the splits.
“Having an intellectual disability doesn’t mean that they’re different than us,” said Erica Hudson, marketing director for Motionball. “They’re completely the same and they’re so talented, so it’s just good all around.”
Hudson first joined Motionball as a team member several years ago, but after experiencing the event firsthand meeting like-minded people and playing for a good cause, she joined the team and has been the marketing director for the last 2 years.
“There was somebody last year who had epilepsy who always wanted to be a part of sports but always felt kind of left out and now being a part of Special Olympics makes her feel like she can achieve anything and she’s doing outstanding,” Hudson said. “This event is not only a lot of fun, but is also bringing young professionals and the next generation of philanthropists together with Special Olympic athletes and the movement and just showing what it means to give back.”
Motionball in Kelowna has grown from 21 teams last year to 28 this year. According to Ungaro, donations have gone up between 35 and 40 per cent in the last year as awareness of the event increases.
Motionball plans to raise $100,000 for Special Olympic athletes and they are confident they will surpass their goal. Motionball has already raised $1.25 million this year nationwide. 100 per cent of the funds raised through Motionball Marathon of Sport will go towards expanding Special Olympics programming to increase accessibility to individuals who would benefit.
Over 6,000 supporters and Special Olympics athletes participate in 24 annual events across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax.
“If you haven’t heard of MotionBall, get involved,” Ungaro said. “The Special Olympians will change your life. We’re fortunate as young professionals and people without the disability, yet the athletes are happier and just kinder than us, so I think we have more to learn from them than they do for us.”