For Amanda Schleppe Special Olympics is really the game of life — the medals are just a bonus.
“It has changed my life a lot,” said Schleppe, who’s been swimming competitively for six years and qualified for the 2015 Worlds in Los Angeles, Calif. “Because before when I never had anything, I would never be out of the house. Since I started, it’s been an incredible ride for me, fantastic, one of a kind, it’s awesome.
“It’s very cool to be picked to be going to the nationals. I find when you get picked, you learn new stuff and you get to compete with people you’ve never met You get to meet new friends and see new cultures.”
Special Olympics for athletes with intellectual disabilities celebrated its half-century anniversary last month.
Team B.C. members qualified for the nationals at the 2017 Special Olympics B.C. Summer Games in Kamloops.
It is made up of 174 athletes, 54 coaches and 16 mission staff.
Penticton’s Ray Huson is one of those coaches (bocce) bringing plenty of experience to the job, having coached at three Canada Winter Games and last year going to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
“It’s been great,” he said in a telephone interview from Antigonish, prior to the start of the games. “You always get more back then you put in, it’s so great to watch the personal growth of all the athletes.
“It’s just a fabulous experience. You see where they (athletes) come from. They seem really shy and hardly talk to anybody but as time goes on they come right out and they’re doing interviews and and they’re out competing and meeting other people. It’s fabulous.”
Oliver’s Kyle Sanderson is another of the swim team members along with Tiffany Bjorndal and Tolan Lloyd-Walters.
“Special Olympics has meant really a lot to me,” said Sanderson. “I met new friends the first year I joined and people in the community. I’ve had fun and worked hard.”
Marlene Keen has coached Special Olympic athletes for the better part of two decades (swimming and basketball) and who worked with the swimmers who are in Nova Scotia during regular weekly water and dry-land training.
“It just gives me a good feeling in my heart,” said Keen about the many hours she dedicates to her athletes. “Some of them have just progressed to far.
“It’s not just the competition, it’s a socialization and even when we’re practicing I let them socialize, I push them but I don’t push them too hard and I think that brings out the best in them. I think we’re just blessed to have such great athletes who work so hard.”
Special Olympics competitions operate on a four-year cycle for both summer and winter sports. Athletes compete in regional events and then provincial games to advance to national games, and Special Olympics Canada Games are the qualifiers for Special Olympics World Games.
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