Twenty-five Special Olympics BC athletes and nine coaches arrived in the Cowichan Valley for the 2018 BC Summer Games – the same weekend as the 50th anniversary of the first-ever Special Olympics in North America.
Participating throughout the region, the group will represent one of eight B.C. zones in track and field, equestrian and swimming.
“I’m really excited to get back and compete,” said athlete Shayne Blandin, 25, from Qualicum Beach.
They will joining other Special Olympic teams on Saturday to commemorate 50 years since people with special needs took to Chicago’s Soldier Field for the first ever Special Olympics.
“The 1968 event is described as ‘daybreak’ – the early stirring of a global movement for people with intellectual disabilities,” Special Olympics BC said in a release.
The Chicago games, although at the time a city-local event, made it possible for athletes around the world to compete and have fun and not to be stigmatized, the group said.
In honour of the historic day, now celebrated as a Global Day of Inclusion, events are being hosted across the province. Twenty-three B.C. cities will be lighting up buildings and landmarks in red in honour of Special Olympics athletes.
On Saturday, Tim Hortons will be selling a donut designed by Special Olympics athletes from Alberta, with proceeds going to the charity.
For most of the Special Olympic athletes at the Cowichan Summer Games, the weekend is one of both competition and getting the chance to bond with athletes from all corners of the province.
Blandin, like some of the other athletes, is a veteran when it comes to big competitions, she said.
But for others, the BC Games marks a milestone in their athletic careers, usually as the first time they travel with a team so far away from home.
New Westminster’s Donovin MacCumber, 18, said he hasn’t been a competitive swimmer for as long as some of his teammates, but is ready to hit some personal bests for his season.
“It’s just something good to make friends, meet new people – that’s what I look forward to when I come to these kinds of events,” MacCumber said.
The athletes will participate in the after-hours athlete dance, sneak some practise in ahead of competition, all the while sharing a sense of excitement in hopes of meeting new goals – accolades 24-year-old Kayla Willms has looked forward to achieving since she had her first swimming lesson as a toddler in Coquitlam.
“I’m so proud to be here right now,” she said.