Sean Casey was just coming around the turn when his best buddy and chief rival on the speedskating ice ahead of him lost an edge and slid into the padded boards. But instead of taking advantage of the situation to skate to an easy victory, Casey glided to a stop and helped his friend get back on his feet so they could finish their race together.
It’s that kind of camaraderie and sportsmanship that is at the heart of the Special Olympics, said Casey's mom, Alison Casey, who’s been a volunteer with the Coquitlam division of the worldwide organization since she got her son involved 15 years ago.
Saturday, Coquitlam city hall and the pillars of the nearby SkyTrain guideway, as well as iconic buildings and landmarks around the province like BC Place, the sails at Canada Place and the legislature, will be lit up with red as part of a global Day of Inclusion to launch the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics.
The movement to provide sporting opportunities for youth and adults with intellectual disabilities was started in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of the late John F. Kennedy. She’d been running a summer day camp from her home in Maryland since 1962 but, six years later, the event evolved into a full-blown competitive event that attracted more than 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada to Soldier Field in Chicago.
Last year, more than 5.7 million athletes from 172 countries participated in over 108,000 games and competitions around the world.
Next week, Casey will be amongst five Coquitlam athletes leaving for Antigonish, N.S. to compete at the National Games, which are a qualifier for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games that will be held in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
It will be another pin in Casey’s travel map along with South Korea, Quebec City, Edmonton and Newfoundland.
Alison Casey said her son would never have those opportunities without Special Olympics, where he competes in swimming, golf, track and field, and cardio fitness in the summer, and speedskating and curling in the winter. It’s a world she never imagined when she first enrolled him in speedskating 15 years ago so he could bond on the ice with his hockey-playing brothers, Brennan and Liam.
Casey, 33, said he loved the sense of accomplishment he got from speedskating, even if he was never fast enough to beat his buddy.
“It felt good to be able to do it well,” he told The Tri-City News.
Over the years he has expanded his sports repertoire. But more importantly, said his mom, he has made lifelong friends among the 200 or so Coquitlam athletes who participate in Special Olympics. Competing has also given him confidence to be more independent in other aspects of his life.
“There’s a level of understanding and acceptance,” said Alison Casey, who has volunteered as a curling coach and treasurer. “It’s hugely supportive.”
That support extends to the family and friends of Special Olympians who often share the same concerns about the well-being and future prospects of their children with challenges.
“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “It’s nice to be part of a family.”
• For more information about Special Olympics BC as well as the Day of Inclusion, go to www.specialolympics.bc.ca.