It’s been a big week for athletes competing in the National Special Olympics in Antigonish, N.S.
“For our athletes, it’s the result of a long journey,” said Sharon Bollenbach, Special Olympics CEO.
“You know they’ve been training in their communities, back in their home programs with their local coaches. There’s a pathway to get to these games: they would have had to qualify for provincials to represent their province here, so it’s a culmination of a lot of time and effort and a lot of work.”
For Brendon Vriesendrop, who competed in bocce, one of the best parts of competing in the Special Olympics is getting to meet other athletes from across the country.
“The people are nice here and they cheer for us and you can meet new people and stuff,” he told Global News.
Basketball player Billy Whalen has been involved in the Special Olympics for nearly three decades and says the games are always a great time.
“It means a lot. This is my fifth nationals, so isn’t new to me. But I mean, we have a lot of new players on our team, it’s their first time but it means a lot to be here,” said Whalen.
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The games are expected to have a considerable impact on the community. It’s estimated the event will generate about $5 million and bring national attention to both the province and the town.
“It doesn’t just allow us the opportunity to showcase our province and our community to the rest of the country but it also allows our community to experience what often only larger urban areas get to experience. That is the privilege of hosting athletes from one end of the country to the other and it just means so much to the people of Antigonish,” said Randy Delorey, MLA for Antigonish and provincial minister of health.
The town’s mayor says the games will have a lasting impact.
“It’s going to affect our town for years to come in so many ways,” said Mayor Laurie Boucher.
“Our restaurants are full, our downtown is just booming with people visiting up and down Main Street, our hotels are all booked up so the immediate economic impact is phenomenal. But there’s also one more aspect that’s good for the community and that’s bringing the community together. We knew that we could pull it off, a national event of this size and our community really came together.”
More than 1,000 volunteers made the Special Olympics possible. Many of them were local residents.
“We have a lot of residents that event took vacation time so they could have this week to volunteer and they’re just enjoying it so much,” added Boucher.
“They’re getting back as much as they’re giving. The athletes are getting so much and the families are loving it but the community members are getting just as much out of it for sure.”
Among the volunteers were several local businesses, who provided medical screening and services for athletes.
Through the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Program, participants were given access to hearing tests, eye exams and even had the opportunity to get new prescription glasses, all free of charge.
“Our athletes are here obviously because they love their sport, they love what they do. But it’s difficult to be a great athlete if you can’t hear the coach, if you can’t see the finish line, if you can’t run properly, if your fitness is a bit of a challenge or if you’re suffering from some pain in your gums or in your mouth,” said Alison Legenza of Special Olympics Canada.
“Our job is to take that all away from them so they can just go on and be happy, healthy athletes.”
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