Coach Michelle Riches cheers on her Special Olympics five-pin bowling team members.                                Mark Brett/Western News

Coach Michelle Riches cheers on her Special Olympics five-pin bowling team members. Mark Brett/Western News

Special feeling helping Special Olympians

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

That’s the oath introduced in the inaugural Special Olympics international games in Chicago in 1968.

Keeping that promise and helping others to do the same has become a family affair for three Penticton sisters.

For 27 years Fae Hodgins, now the five-pin bowling head coach for Special Olympics BC Penticton, has worked with special needs athletes including her younger sister Jeri-Lee Hodgins.

Four years ago their other sister, Michelle Riches, decided to get on board upon her return to Penticton. After volunteering for a couple of years, she too decided to get her coaching certification and now works with athletes in bowling, bocce and powerlifting.

And she couldn’t be happier.

“It’s the most amazing experience in the world,” she said during a break in the Tuesday afternoon bowling competition at Roll N Stones Fun Centre, a weekly event for nearly 40 athletes. “You cannot have a bad day. I mean if you’ve had a bad day and you come to be with the athletes they put a smile on your face, you just can’t help it.

“Watching them, the interaction among themselves, the camaraderie, cheering each other on and they get to know you, they get to love you, you get so many hugs, it just feels so good when you leave.”

Her sister Fae agreed: “What I get out of this is a lot of joy and I come in here and they light you up, you walk out of here with a happy face, in spite of what else is happening you feel really good.”

There are a variety of seasonal sporting options for athletes locally in addition to five and 10-pin bowling, including; snowshoeing, cross country skiing, softball, basketball and swimming.

While she helps the athletes with their skills, conducts stretching exercises and deals with organizational matters, much of Riches work is cheering on her charges who range in age from eight to 70.

“My hands are sore from clapping and I have no voice at the end of the day,” said Riches, adding about watching her sister compete: “It warms my heart to see Jeri-Lee’s face light up with excitement when she does well and while cheering on her teammates.

“But we also let the athletes know that it’s okay if you don’t win every time, just have a good time and we just have a ball.”

When asked about her most memorable moment in the time she has worked with Special Olympics, Riches was hard pressed to come up with just one.

“I can honestly say that every day I am involved with the athletes has been memorable,” she said.

The one thing that did stand out in her mind was the trip to the Special Olympics 2017 Summer Games in Kamloops in July with a Kelowna bowling team.

“That was a great experience, it was with a whole different group of athletes seeing them enjoy the experience was amazing. My sisters were also there with the SOBC Penticton team and it was wonderful to experience it with them. The opening and closing ceremonies where I saw all of the athletes in one place gave me chills and my heart was bursting with waves of love and enthusiasm.”

SOBC Penticton is currently looking to expand its program schedule and needs more volunteers to enjoy what Riches describes as a “life-changing experience.”

For more information about opportunities with SOBC Penticton go to: specialolympics.bc.ca/local/sobc-penticton.

 

Special Olympian Jeri-Lee Hodgins delivers a shot under the watchful eyes of her coaches and sisters, Fae Hodgins (left) and Michelle Riches at Sun Country Lanes during this week’s five-pin bowling competition.                                Mark Brett/Western News                                Special Olympian Jeri-Lee Hodgins delivers a shot under the watchful eyes of her coaches and sisters, Fae Hodgins (left) and Michelle Riches at Roll N Stones Fun Centre during this week’s five-pin bowling competition. Mark Brett/Western News

Special Olympian Jeri-Lee Hodgins delivers a shot under the watchful eyes of her coaches and sisters, Fae Hodgins (left) and Michelle Riches at Sun Country Lanes during this week’s five-pin bowling competition. Mark Brett/Western News Special Olympian Jeri-Lee Hodgins delivers a shot under the watchful eyes of her coaches and sisters, Fae Hodgins (left) and Michelle Riches at Roll N Stones Fun Centre during this week’s five-pin bowling competition. Mark Brett/Western News