Event rises to new heights

Kenn Oliver
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SPECIAL OLYMPICS Athletes got chance to do their very best: Games' chair

Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador (SONL) and the host Mount Pearl raised the bar and set a new provincial standard for Summer Games with the 20th anniversary event this weekend.

With 564 participants - including coaches, volunteers and some 360 athletes - it became the largest congregation ever to assemble for a Special Olympics Games in this province.

Tim Sheppard of St. John's competes in the 200 metre freestyle event at the 2009 Provincial Special Olympic Games in Mount Pearl Saturday. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Special Olympics Newfoundland and Labrador (SONL) and the host Mount Pearl raised the bar and set a new provincial standard for Summer Games with the 20th anniversary event this weekend.

With 564 participants - including coaches, volunteers and some 360 athletes - it became the largest congregation ever to assemble for a Special Olympics Games in this province.

"Excellent," says Games chair Evan Ash. "Absolutely excellent."

"Everything went off without a hitch, which was fantastic, and it gave the opportunity to these athletes, who have trained all year in their own communities, to come in here to do their very best."

SONL program director Nelson White says the event was a huge success.

"One of the things we were really proud of was the level of competition, from the officiating to the athletes. It was one of the better track or swim meets I've ever been a part of, generic or Special Olympics," contends White.

"There was a lot of volunteers all working in the right direction to make it work really well."

With any Special Olympics Games - winter, summer or otherwise - the goal at the end of the day is two-fold.

Social side as well

"There's the competition and there's the social side. In these athletes' lives, one is almost as important as the other in that a lot of them require that socialization to build confidence and self esteem."

And where athletes are separated not by age, but by ability, it's hard to single out any one athletes' success over another.

"It's unfair to say someone has three medals, when someone else might have turned in a personal best," explains White.

In addition to serving as the qualifying grounds for next year's Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in London, Ont., the committee also employed a program called Healthy Athlete offered, and fully paid for by, Special Olympics International.

At World Games, athletes from under-developed and Third World countries who didn't have access to proper medical care had their eyes, ears, teeth and joints checked out to ensure the athletes were healthy. If they weren't, the medical team would prescribe and provide the necessary medications or treatments.

The Mount Pearl organizing committee applied for the Opening Eyes facet of the program which offers eye examinations from a team of ophthalmologists, including locally based Dr. David Richardson.

"All athletes have the opportunity to have their eyes examined and if it's found the athletes need glasses, they will provide them. And if an athlete is already wearing them, but the prescription is out of date or needs to be upgraded, they again will provide glasses," explains Ash who says the program was very well received by participants.

Ash expects the names of next July's national Games qualifiers to be announced by month's end.

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Special Olympics Games, Special Olympics Canada, World Games Third World Mount Pearl organizing committee

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, London, Ont.

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