Top News

Special Olympics means many good things


Dear Editor: I write this as a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee (LETR); as a member of the mission staff of the 2008 Mount Pearl Special Olympics Snowshoe team; and especially, as a proud brother of two very special athletes, Bruce and Brian Shea. Last weekend, I attended possibly one of the most special events I have had the pleasure to go to - the 2008 Special Olympics Newfound-land and Labrador Winter Championships, hosted by the community of Gambo.

Letters to the Editor - Dear Editor:

I write this as a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Law Enforcement Torch Run Committee (LETR); as a member of the mission staff of the 2008 Mount Pearl Special Olympics Snowshoe team; and especially, as a proud brother of two very special athletes, Bruce and Brian Shea.

Last weekend, I attended possibly one of the most special events I have had the pleasure to go to - the 2008 Special Olympics Newfound-land and Labrador Winter Championships, hosted by the community of Gambo.

Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008, was a beautiful winter day with clear blue skies and cool temperatures, and all teams arrived safely at Smallwood Academy, Gambo, where we were treated to a hearty meal of soup and sandwiches.

Following this, all teams proceeded to their assigned classrooms to prepare for the opening ceremonies, as well as the afternoon activities of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. I was proud to walk with the Mount Pearl Special Olympians into the gymnasium, where the teams from Tricon, St. John's, Bell Island, Exploits, and the host team from Gander assembled for the opening ceremonies.

There we were welcomed by Gus Green of the Gambo Sports and Recreation Committee, who was followed by the Gambo's Mayor, Lloyd Noseworthy, who offered greetings on behalf of the town of Gambo. The mayor was followed by Scott Simms, MP for Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor, whose rousing speech had all athletes cheering loudly. John Byrne, executive director of Special Olympics, Newfoundland and Labrador, welcomed all the athletes and further singled out the athletes who will be attending the upcoming national games being held in Quebec later this month.

Then it was my turn to speak. I had been invited to speak as a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Law Enforcement Torch Run committee. This was the first Games I had attended in this function since becoming a member of the LETR executive. I had attended parts of past Special Olympics Summer Games when my younger brothers were competing in specific events. However, over two years ago, I was looking to do something more in my community and as I am a fisheries officer, I saw this committee as an easy fit because I am also a member of the law enforcement community in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was aware that the LETR has runs every year as I have participated as a runner over the past decade and had purchased a few LETR T-shirts through the years and I knew that fellow DFO employee Ben Whelan, who was a long-serving member of this committee, would certainly be a great mentor.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that while I'm fine talking one-on-one and even in small groups, the presence of a microphone and thus delivering a speech of any kind gives me a bad case of the jitters. As well, this day, I had, foolishly decided to adlib my brief speech so I wasn't reading from a script of any kind.

So, as I briefly offered greetings to the athletes and gathered coaches, volunteers, family members and friends, I looked around at the faces of the assembled athletes and imagined their anticipation for what the day held; all the training that the previous months held; all those cold days of practice led to this day and suddenly, all that I planned to say about the function of our organization vanished.

I can't describe the feeling, but it was powerful. I didn't tell the athletes how fisheries officers from my department, members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, correctional officers of Her Majesty's Penitentiary, members of the Provincial Department of Government Services, officers of the Provincial High Sheriff's Office, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Military Police, campus enforcement officers of Memorial University and members of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation fundraise every year via LETR T-shirt sales and the torch runs throughout many communities of our province to provide quality sport and fitness programs to our province's athletes who have a mental handicap.

Instead, I said all the Special Olympians had not gathered to hear long speeches and thus finished my own quickly before I felt I might lose my voice, as I felt my heart well up in my throat because I was seeing, for the first time, why we do what we do.

I then proceeded to introduce Special Olympian Marla Gilbert from Gander, who was to lead the athletes in the athlete's oath. Marla quickly came up to the microphone, displaying no signs of nervousness. "Let me win!" she loudly cried out, and the assembled athletes cheerily echoed, "Let me win!" "But if I cannot win," she continued and again the room was filled with a boisterous, "But if I cannot win," Marla paused briefly here and then softly said "let me be brave in the attempt," while the assembled athletes loudly refrained "let me be brave in the attempt!" An even louder cheer followed from the entire gym.

The Games were then declared officially started and all the athletes went out on to the nearby track, which had been carefully prepared with four racing lanes all around the 400-metre, snow-covered oval track.

That afternoon, I saw the oath lived out as I witnessed several athletes struggle through individual 100-, 200- and 400-m snowshoe races, as well as in the 400-m team relays, but all finished with a satisfied smile, regardless of their placement in the competition.

I was proud and humbled again and again in all that I saw. One event of the afternoon may suffice as an example. I was watching the female 200-m race. As all four athletes were approaching the finish line, an athlete from the St. John' s team, following in the fourth and last place suddenly fell down in her lane. All cheers for the leaders suddenly quieted. Then a resounding cheer of encouragement for the fallen female began and continued as she struggled to her feet and began to proceed forward again. These cheers continued until she finished her race, where she was loudly welcomed to the finish line by her fellow competitors.

As their older brother, I was proud when Bruce and Brian received medals in the 100-, 200- and the 400-m team relay.

I would like to thank the Newfoundland and Labrador Special Olympics committee for giving all of the Special Olympians the opportunity to compete and enjoy a very well organized series of Winter Games.

Thanks to Special Olympics, Bruce and Brian also participate in bowling and floor hockey throughout the year.

I would like to thank the people of Gambo, who hosted and organized such a fine event and for providing a dinner and dance for all the athletes, coaches and volunteers later that evening at the local Lions Club.

I would also like to thank my fellow coaches and volunteers, who give so unselfishly of their time, especially the youth volunteers who may not have a family connection to a Special Olympian but give all they can to their peers so selflessly.

I would like to thank MP Scott Simms, who stayed to cheerfully present medals to the Special Olympians, even as the day grew colder, especially for spectators, who were often stamping their feet to remain warm.

Finally, I thank my twin brothers, who, throughout their 30 years, continue to surprise me with their gift of being just who they are, by doing their best and always being brave in all their attempts in life.

Paul Shea

St. John's

Recent Stories