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Special Olympics celebrates 50th anniversary with Day of Inclusion

Quesnel Cariboo Observer - 7/22/2018

Saturday (July 21) will mark the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics organization with the Global Day of Inclusion.

Communities across B.C. will be lighting up landmarks and municipal buildings in red as part of the celebration. In Quesnel, the Fraser River foot bridge will be bathed in bright crimson to mark the event.

In Vancouver, BC Place, the Rogers Arena, and City Hall, among many others, will also be lit up. Other communities have issued proclamations about the Global Day of Inclusion, including Williams Lake, Kamloops and Nanaimo, among several others. The province of B.C. has also issued a proclamation.

Across Canada, there are more than 45,000 athletes and participants in the Special Olympics, with approximately 4,800 athletes and 3,900 coaches and volunteers in B.C. alone.

In Quesnel, the local Special Olympics got started 25 years ago.

Quesnel was set to host the Northern BC Winter Games in 1993, and it was proposed that Special Olympics events also be held during the games.

Until that point, Quesnel didn't have any Special Olympics teams, but hosting the games was the push they needed. They wanted to be able to include local athletes in the games.

Glenda Melnychuk has been an athlete in Quesnel'sSpecial Olympics for the last 22 years. She heard about it through word of mouth, and says she loves the sports, making friends and being part of a group.

She swims, does track and field, five-pin bowling, rhythmic gymnastics, and snowshoeing in the wintertime. Although she plays several sports, she says swimming is her favourite.

Melnychuk says the Special Olympics mean a lot to her. "It means getting out, doing something, not sitting around at home, because that's boring, and it means being a part of a very special group of people; athletes, volunteers, coaches."

But it's not just the athletes who love the Special Olympics.

READ MORE: Quesnel Special Olympics celebrates 25 years with awards show and dance

Ellen Martz coaches five-pin bowling, and assists with track and field, rhythmic gymnastics and Club Fit, as well as helping in a variety of other ways.

Twenty-five years ago, her son, who has down syndrome, joined the Special Olympics to bowl. Martz used to go and watch, until one day, they needed a score keeper, and she volunteered. "Eventually, I was asked to help with coaching, and that's where it all began," she says.

She says the athletes are "just so upbeat and enthusiastic. They try hard in the sports and events they're doing, and it's just heartwarming to see the improvement over time and just the places they can get to with some help along the way."

She says the more people know about the Special Olympics and the more familiar they are with the athletes, the better it is.

"It's good for our community as well to see what our athletes actually do," she says. "It's good for promoting themselves, socializing, and it gives them fitness and a sense of belonging."

The Quesnel Special Olympics will spend Billy Barker Days going to LeBourdais Park and the Gold Dust Mall at the West Fraser parking lot to collect recyclables to raise money for the organization.

Tim Hortons will also be doing their part for the Special Olympics this weekend.

On Saturday, the Global Day of Inclusion, they'll be selling Special Olympics donuts. Those who buy the donuts are encouraged to snap a picture and share it on social media by tagging Special Olympics B.C. and using the hashtag #ChooseToInclude.

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