Approximately 1,027 athletes from across the country visited the local area last week to participate in the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games.
The opening ceremonies took place on July 31 at the Keating Millennium Center, and athletic events took place at StFX and other locations in the Town of Antigonish. The games ran until August 4.
While a large number of athletes were coming from all corners of Canada, the local area boasted a contingent of 14 athletes.
Elizabeth Abler and Jessica Gillis, both of Antigonish, competed in swimming. Antigonish was also represented by Eileen Garvie (bocce) and Ryan Kearney (golf).
The largest group was found in athletics, including Port Hawkesbury’s Sasha Repko and Arichat’s Carey Clannon. From Antigonish, athletes Matthew Anderson, Hannah Deon, Christian Gerro, Lisa Lauscher, RJ Pitts, Kristina Richard, Nicole Roberts, and Roslyn Samson participated.
The games were hosted at StFX University and facilitated by a partnership between the Special Olympics National Summer Games 2018 Organizing Committee, the Province of Nova Scotia, Michelin Corporate Foundation, the Government of Canada, and the Town and County of Antigonish.
Predictably, there were a number of heart-warming stories which emerged from the recent games.
But outside the Special Olympics were two other stories from the Strait area, which were inspiring in similar ways.
On July 23, several hundred people visited the boardwalk in Inverness to celebrate the completion of the Inverness Boardwalk Project, which is estimated to have cost in the ballpark of $360,000. A number of upgrades to the boardwalk were made, including upgrades to the washroom and shower facilities, modification to make parking easier, and safety measures.
Most notably, ramps now allow people on the boardwalk to access the beach. Due to the inclusion of Mobi-Mats, people in wheelchairs can now roll directly onto the sand. With that, walkers and beach chairs allow people with disabilities access to the water.
President of the Inverness Development Association (IDA), Rob Burbach, noted that the renovations made the Inverness Beach the most accessible beach in Atlantic Canada.
Serving as the driving force behind the project were Callum MacQuarrie, a co-chair of the Inverness County Accessibility Committee, and Rose Mary MacDonald, the vice-president of the IDA.
The boardwalk project is also responsible for a beach patroller position to compliment the efforts of the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service and a lifeguard stand from which lifeguards can more easily spot trouble like riptides.
MacDonald said funding for the project came from a number of sources including all three levels of government and independent groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Businesses and community groups were also very willing to pitch in.
D.J. MacLean and Sons Contracting donated time and manpower to get the renovations done; Freeman’s Pharmacy donated a defibrillator and Cabot Links provided labour and support.
Having the most accessible beach in Atlantic Canada is truly inspiring, but the manner in which the community pitched-in to make the project a reality, was equally heartening.
Then came the story of Albertan Chris Koch who visited the Strait area during a cross-country hitch-hiking trek despite the fact he was born with no arms and no legs.
Koch had his trusty skateboard with him, along with a knapsack and a Toronto Blue Jays cap. He made the trip with no support team whatsoever.
After his first day, Koch started updating people via Facebook of his adventure. He then began getting messages from folks saying they were willing to drive him along various legs of his trip. It was due to Facebook that he was approached by Barb Malcolm, who took him from the Causeway to North Sydney as well as a quick trip down Route 19 to see a bit of Inverness County. The Reporter caught up with him at the home of Malcolm’s sister, Rhona MacDonald of Whiteside.
Although he has now finished his journey, Koch plans to continue doing motivational speaking tours around the country. Last May, he spoke in Antigonish and there’s been interest in having him visit StFX.
Together, the heart-warming stories from the Special Olympics, the efforts of so many to do so much good in Inverness, and the strength of Chris Koch are a massive dose of inspiration to those who need strength, or heroes to emulate.
They are terrific examples of what can be accomplished when people refuse to give up or accept the status-quo, and this region was fortunate to be inspired by these stories up close and in person.