Celebrating friendship and achievement with more than 110 nations
There were some tears on Tuesday morning, January 29, when Special Olympics Team Canada bid a fond farewell to Soon Chun Hyang University and the student volunteers who showed so much kindness to our athletes and the whole team throughout our 2013 Special Olympics World Games Host Town Program. Alpine skier Teneesha Coulson of Penticton, B.C. noticed that a few of the students were crying as they hugged her goodbye, and she felt a little choked up too.
Many contact details were exchanged, smiling photos taken, and words of appreciation shared for the amazing experiences and the genuine friendship shown to the athletes by the students.
In the Athlete Villages that Special Olympics Team Canada moved into on Tuesday, many new friendships are waiting to be forged, and transcontinental ties from previous Games renewed. When the team headed into the cafeteria for lunch, snowshoeing athlete Edward Wallace of Nipawin, Saskatchewan, and alpine skier Michael Gilbert of St. Donat, Quebec, right away ran into Russian athletes familiar to them from World Games past.
The Russian ski racer that Gilbert competed against at the 2005 and 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games came up to him right away to shake his hand. Wallace, meanwhile, enjoyed reconnecting with a Russian friend he’d made at the 2009 World Games in Boise, Idaho.
“I’ve found one friend already,” Wallace said immediately after the reunion. “It’s nice to see them again – all we’ve been doing is texting and Facebooking.”Wallace has been a Special Olympics athlete for 22 years and competes in athletics, golf, and floor hockey in addition to his snowshoeing excellence.
The joyful swirl of teams from more than 110 nations heading into the Opening Ceremony was incredibly inspiring to behold, and something the Special Olympics Team Canada athletes really enjoyed. The team members based in Alpensia Resort saw so many countries represented in their walk through the streets – everywhere from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Jordan and Austria – and joined athletes from the Ukraine and Nepal on the bus to the Yongpyong Dome.
The Opening Ceremony and its parade of athletes gave an inspiring, moving picture of the diverse range of countries drawn together by these Games. Special Olympics Team Canada walked out with pride, cheered on by the crowd and many of the 141 Canadian family members who have travelled to the Republic of Korea to support the athletes as they achieve their dreams.
Check out our photos on Flickr!
Sitting high in the stands over the elegant stage set for the ceremony’s parade and entertainment, Team Canada East floor hockey player Ben Harding of Pefferlaw, Ont., was feeling deeply moved by the meaning of this accomplishment.
“I’m almost in tears being here,” he said.
Highlights of the Opening Ceremony included the beautiful entertainment and the inspirational remarks from leaders and celebrities ranging from figure skater Yuna Kim to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chairperson, National League for Democracy, Burma (Myanmar) – and for Canadians the appearance of Global Messenger Matthew Williams of Langley, B.C., who introduced the President of the Republic of Korea, and of Special Olympics Team Canada cross-country skier Rachel Bleau, selected to represent Special Olympics North America in bringing out the flag.
Another highlight was Special Olympics Team Canada Honorary Coach Catriona Le May Doan greeting and high-fiving almost every team member before walking out with them for the parade.
At last, it’s go time for the races, games, and performances the athletes have trained so long and hard for – “game on” on Wednesday, January 30!