Farewell, Antigonish: Special Olympics wrap up with triumphs, celebration, hospitality

Dr. Frank Hayden (left), founder of Special Olympics Canada was honoured during the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games by Special Olympics Chair Mark Tewksbury, and presented with a gift for his contributions over the past 50 years.

ANTIGONISH: It’s not every day you’re able to witness life-lasting impressions let alone also being able to leave an undeniable legacy within the roots of a small, rural, historic Nova Scotian town.

But for four days last week, Antigonish was able to accomplish this and so much more as they hosted the Special Olympic Canada 2018 Summer Games at StFX University from July 31 – August 4.

As the five-day celebration of athletics, friendship and triumphs wrapped up on Saturday, it was evident that Antigonish left an impression on the athletes, coaches, families and visitors that journeyed from coast-to-coast to our little Nova Scotian community, and got a glimpse of our east coast hospitality.

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Special Olympics Canada Chief Executive Officer, Sharon Bollenbach said with the event happening at the tight-knit university, it truly made for a campus takeover.

“Having the Games at such an amazing location like the university, it created a real vibe and energy that was apparent all week long.”

Carl Chisholm, committee co-chair, reflected on what everybody from the community had learned from the athletes: courage, strength, confidence, determination, encouragement, fair play and kindness.

“You will be with us forever. You have taught us the true meaning of what being an athlete is.”

The Games were expected to have a considerable impact on the surrounding community. It’s estimated the event generated up to $5 million and brought national attention to both the province and the town.

Randy Delorey, Antigonish MLA, said there’s obviously an economic impact when you host a national event of this magnitude.

“I’ve heard people say that in the New Glasgow and Pictou areas, where people have been staying for accommodations, and people have been staying as far as Truro and Port Hawkesbury,” he said. “So the economic impact reaches beyond Antigonish and extends to the whole North Shore region.”

Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher said the Games will indeed leave a lasting impact on the town.

“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,” she said. “The community is getting back as much as they’re giving, [and] community members are getting just as much out of it for sure.”

The Games, which were hosted in Nova Scotia for only the second time, included 1,025 athletes from all 12 provincial and territorial chapters, over 420 coaches and staff, and featured over 600 hard-working volunteers that provided their time by helping with everything from officiating to parking.

“We knew that we could pull it off, a national event of this size and our community really came together,” Boucher said.

Right from day one, everybody in Antigonish stepped up to make this a truly successful community-lead event, Delorey said.

“We saw that come together with the opening ceremonies earlier in the week, which everybody was talking about across the province, and I think indeed across the country.”

During the opening ceremonies, one golden moment stands out in particular, and it wasn’t the surprise performance from Antigonish’s The Trews or Charlie A’Court’s heart-warming rendition of his 2018 Summer Games theme song “Let Me Win.”

The pioneer of Special Olympics, Dr. Frank Hayden was honoured on the golden anniversary for his half-century worth of contributions by Special Olympics chair Mark Tewksbury.

Hayden was there when it all began at the inaugural Games at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968. It was just him and his wife Marion, with a vision they ran the Games solely by themselves.

Today millions of athletes from countries around the world participate in the Special Olympics.

Bollenbach said she’s always very humbled and inspired for the work that happens from their volunteers.

“It’s amazing to me. I love to see it all come together, and for it to be such a celebration, I’m just extremely humbled.”

Organizers said there was nothing but massive amounts of unbelievable feedback, and high praise had become a commonality throughout the week.

“On almost every measurable scale, things have exceeded in every way, shape, and form,” committee co-chair Marc Champoux said.

“We had every expectation that the community and the campus would answer the bell and they have, for sure,” he said. “We couldn’t go 50-feet without someone stopping us and thanking us, telling us what a great experience it has been for them and their families.”

Antigonish really went above and beyond and the spirit from the volunteers was unbelievable, Bollenbach said.

“You have welcomed all of us with open arms,” she said. “You continue to change hearts and minds of people around the world.”

Delorey said what made this national event so successful was more people in and around the community believed.

“[We’re] saying ‘You know what, if someone has a big idea, yes, we can deliver on that, and we’re going to come together.’”

Special Olympics Canada not only empowers athletes and gives them a sense of inclusion and acceptance, but also changes the public perception of people with an intellectual disability.

In celebration of the Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, announced a federal investment of $16 million over five years, with an additional $2 million per year ongoing, during the first day of the Games on August 1.

Duncan said this stable, long-term funding will help the organization sustain its empowering movement, which supports more than 45,000 children, youth and adults in Canada with intellectual disabilities through its extraordinary network of more than 21,000 volunteers.

“I celebrate your athleticism, determination and passion and I wish you good luck as you strive for personal bests. I also thank the many volunteers, coaches and organizers working hard to make this a most memorable Summer Games.”

Bollenbach said Special Olympics Canada is extremely grateful the Government of Canada has made this tremendous investment towards providing all Canadians the opportunity to access sport.

“It sends a message from our government that they believe in sport for all Canadians,” she said. “This commitment will allow Special Olympics Canada and our 12 provincial and territorial chapters to extend our reach to even more Canadians with an intellectual disability.”

The bulk of the money will be allocated for the chapters to go out into the community and do grassroots work such as building awareness, recruiting more athletes, and recruiting and training volunteers and coaches.

“Our strategic plan is really focused on two things, growth and quality,” Bollenbach said. “Our challenge is we want to get more people involved and experiencing that transformative power of sport.”

Before the Games started, Cole Harbour native Sidney Crosby helped kick off the national event in Antigonish by donating $50,000 to Special Olympics Nova Scotia.

The donation was announced on the Sidney Crosby Foundation twitter account last Tuesday morning.

“The Sidney Crosby Foundation is proud to support Special Olympics NS. Good luck to all participants competing this week at the National Summer Games in Antigonish!”

StFX provided a picturesque backdrop to an event which brought first-timers to the beautifully tucked away campus, but it also provided an opportunity for some to come home.

Two of those peoples were Meaghan and Marie Wright. The former StFX students, and twin-sister documentarians, returned to their alma mater with cameras in hand and captured the true essence of the games.

The sister-owned Mirror Image Media is a video production company based in Halifax that creates promotional videos for businesses and events.

In partnership with Special Olympics Nova Scotia, the Wrights released an inspirational video displaying the energy, bravery and determination of the Games. The video was released on the Special Olympics Nova Scotia Facebook page on August 5 and at the time of writing, the video already had 16,236 views and climbing with every refresh. (Update: currently at 23,071 plays as of 2:58 pm August 8)

SO2018 Closing Ceremonies Video

Need some inspiration from #SO2018? It was an amazing Summer Games and this Video is a Must See to capture the energy, determination and bravery of all the 1400 Athletes and supported by over 1000 Coaches, Volunteers, Families and Fans and the generosity of many Sponsors.

Posted by Special Olympics Nova Scotia on Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Mirror Image Media Facebook page said they’re trying to work with more organizations that empower and better people and planet.

“This is perfect example of that and we are so grateful to be able to share these stories. Thank you so much to Special Olympics Nova Scotia for giving us the opportunity to shoot the National Special Olympic Games this year in Antigonish.”

Antigonish’s outstanding hospitality and generosity paid dividends, rubbing off on family members who were taking in the Special Olympic festivities and on Friday evening, at the St. Martha’s Ceilidh in the Round that gratitude came full-circle.

The benefit ceilidh at Columbus Field was hosted in support of the St. Martha’s Hospital Foundation, giving attendees an insight to a true east coast kitchen party. The night featured a 50/50 draw, which saw a Saskatchewan woman win, whose brother was competing in power lifting; and out of the gracious of her heart – donated the funds back to the hospital’s foundation.

“I love it, this just proves that it’s bigger than the Games itself, that’s just absolutely fantastic,” Bollenbach said.

As the Special Olympics Cauldron flame is extinguished, atop the nine-foot commemorative cairn created and constructed in Antigonish, the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games officially comes to a close.

“Look around Antigonish, and find someone who isn’t smiling within the last week,” Delorey said.

And with that being said, there is only one thing left to say, THANK YOU ANTIGONISH!