By Steve Hubrecht
The Invermere Special Olympic group is proud to be sending athletes to the B.C. Special Olympic Winter Games for the first time. Brandon Cote and Marlow Feldmann will be joining the rest of the 60 Region One (the Kootenay Region) team athletes for the Winter Games in Kamloops on February 20th and 21st, with both Invermere residents participating in all the alpine skiing events — slalom, GS (giant slalom), and Super G (super giant slalom).
“I think they (the athletes) are pretty excited. For us (the local Special Olympic volunteers) there is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the program grow to the point that athletes can attend out-of-town events,” said Invermere Special Olympics local co-ordinator Mike Fairhart. “Hopefully this will be a kind of impetus to draw more people to the program. We do welcome everybody with an intellectual disability, not only those who want to compete, but also those who just want to participate.”
Brandon and Marlow went to a regional Special Olympics competition in Kelowna last winter, and it was there that they skied well enough to qualify for the provincial Winter Games.
“I am excited to be going to Sun Peaks to ski and to see all my friends again,” said Marlow.
“I am happy to be going to Kamloops. I am practicing skiing at Panorama. I am proud of myself,” said Brandon.“The whole focus (of Special Olympics) is to encourage participation in physical activity, sport and athletics and to give people with intellectual disabilities a chance to compete in these activities,” said Mr. Fairhart. “In addition to the sport, there are opportunities for social interaction and personal growth and that’s all a significant part of the program.”
The Special Olympics is an international organization, which runs programs in 160 countries around the world. In Canada 31,000 athletes participate in Special Olympic programs, with 4,000 of those athletes coming from 50 different community groups in B.C., including those in Invermere.
The Invermere Special Olympics program has been running for about five years, and any given weekend will have eight to 12 athletes participating in (depending on the season) alpine skiing, bowling, swimming or bocce.
Confusion has occasionally arisen as to the difference between the Invermere Special Olympic group and the Panorama Adaptive Sports Society (PASS), with participants, parents and sometimes volunteers not sure which organization they should be turning to.
“We serve people who have what is known as an intellectual disability, while PASS serves people with a physical disability as well as people with an intellectual disability,” said Mr. Fairhart.
“PASS provides opportunities for all people with a disability to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of skiing and snowboarding. With the assistance of B.C. Adaptive Snowsports, PASS can help skiers and snowboarders progress to racing if they are interested in that,” said PASS coordinator Catrien Dainard, adding that another difference between the two groups is that the Special Olympic group offers multiple sports while so far PASS only offers alpine skiing (although PASS hopes to add some summer sports in the future).
Mr. Fairhart said the confusion is understandable, since the two groups sometimes share equipment and some of the same volunteers help out with both groups.
“There is some overlap, so there’s sharing of equipment. Also in small communities such as Invermere we tend to share volunteer resources,” he said.
The Invermere Special Olympic group is branching out into new sports this winter as it is in the process of developing a Nordic ski program.