2020 Champions of Inclusion

In honour of Global Week of Inclusion, we’re celebrating our homegrown Champions of Inclusion who were nominated by members of their community: Albertans who are leading the charge for respecting and embracing all abilities.

Matt Burton

Alberta Sheriff Matt Burton is a Champion of Inclusion. Matt has taken on the role of Southwest Region Chair for the Alberta LETR and is currently the Interim Chair of the Lethbridge SOA affiliate. He is always at the forefront of Special Olympics event in his region and committed to promoting inclusion in the community. During the recent #10ADayTilItsOK campaign Matt offered to host virtual workout sessions for any athletes wanting to participate in the campaign.

Shanna Kurylo and ASAA

Shanna Kurylo and the ASAA team have brought inclusion to high schools across Alberta. In less the five years the culture surrounding inclusion in high schools has shifted dramatically thanks to Unified Sports. ASAA has been the driving force behind the Unified program and Shanna has done an incredible job connecting with teachers, schools, and making sure inclusion is engrained in the hearts and minds of student athletes and partners here in Alberta.

Karen Unger

Karen Unger literally defines Champion of Inclusion. She has inspired inclusion here in Edmonton through her dedication to motionball, and all of the amazing things she does as a Special Olympics volunteer. She is always the first person to promote opportunities for inclusion and this year hosted an event to draft one of the Team Alberta athletes. Karen would literally do anything to make sure everyone felt included and for that she is a champion.

University of Calgary Dino Men’s Basketball Team and Coaches: Dan Van Hooren, Dan Pearson and Phil Barndt

The team has accepted Bill Hurley, a Special Olympics athlete, as part of their team. The team treat him as one of the guys and involve him in everything including when they get together after games. Through Bill, they have learned that people with intellectual differences are the same as they are and just want to be treated as such. Many of these gentlemen have gone on in their careers with a special appreciation to include those with different abilities where they can.

Minster Leela Aheer

Minister Leela Aheer is dedicated to making inclusion a reality for everyone in Alberta. She is a powerful voice and advocates heavily on behalf of athletes in the province. She has taken a big role in supporting our initiatives online like Healthy at Home through her social platforms. Minister Aheer is walking the world virtually with us, she took the Plunge earlier this year, and speaks at many Special Olympics events.

Rob Williams

Rob Williams is a voice for inclusion in Edmonton. Through his role at CTV Edmonton he continues to promote Special Olympics athletes, initiatives, and inclusion overall. He is also involved in many local events from plunging in the Polar Plunge to interviewing athletes at the annual SOA-Edmonton Joey Moss Invitational Floor Hockey tournament. Rob Williams puts a spotlight on athletes and the amazing things they are doing to promote inclusivity.

Leslie Horton

In Calgary, Global News’ Leslie Horton is spreading the word of inclusion. Leslie is involved in sharing stories about many local Special Olympics events like Polar Plunge and she is always involved heavily in promoting the Day of Inclusion. Last year, Leslie went to local Tim Hortons to meet with athletes and pick up some Day of Inclusion donuts in support of the cause. She is always looking to help Special Olympics athletes shine.

Metro Edmonton High School Athletics

Metro jumped on board with Unified Sports in Alberta high schools in 2018 with the Metro Unified Jamboree, combining three sports in one day for the ultimate inclusive Zone Championship. Spearheaded by Shawn Shepherd, Metro has expanded their offerings to include both an annual Unified Bocce and a Unified Jamboree event, bringing together hundreds of students from across the greater Edmonton area every year.

Cold Lake High School

Cold Lake High School jumped on board with Unified Sports by hosting a Unified Bean Bag toss tournament, which is now an annual event hosted by teachers Kelly Eagles and Jared Nichol. Even though it’s called a bean bag toss event, there’s so much more going on to promote inclusion for every participant of every ability: students can make signs for their school between games, meet peers from surrounding schools, join the after-lunch cha-cha-slide, and go home with a special gift from CLHS.

Bert Church High School

Led by Ian Ferguson and Cynthia Dahl, Bert Church High School was one of the first schools in Alberta to start playing Unified Sports back in 2016. They’ve made it a permanent part of their school community since then. BCHS has been both event participants and event hosts, most recently hosting a virtual Unified Bean Bag Toss event for athletes across Canada to learn a new activity while staying safe at home.

Bellerose High School

Bellerose High was excited to host the 2020 Metro Unified Jamboree and ready to show schools from across Edmonton what inclusion looks like for the Bellerose Bulldogs. The event was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop the Bulldogs Unified Team from staying connected and showing their dedication to their team by donning their jerseys and making a video to stay connected.

Cochrane Lanes

Cochrane Lanes is our local bowling alley and they have embraced inclusion for a very long time (10+ years). They have had a challengers league, the day program league, and most recently last fall - a Special Olympics Alberta-Bow Valley 5-pin bowling program. They have stepped up as coaches and have welcomed our athletes with open arms. The staff is always cheerful and helpful, taking the time to get to know all our bowlers. They celebrate each achievement, and personal bests, along side our athletes and volunteers. It is no surprise that our program has tripled in size since registration opened last fall. In our opinion they exemplify inclusion and are very deserving of this recognition.

Todd and Quinn Jacobs

These two gentlemen have made the residents who have disabilities in our town of Olds feel very welcome. When there is a Special Olympic event sponsored by corporate Tim Hortons, they welcome our Special Olympic athletes to come in and share information about our programs and meet and greet customers. They have supported us locally with major donations from their Smile Cookie campaign. Todd, Quinn, and their staff know many of us by name and are willing to help us with fundraising and awareness at anytime. When they have Camp Day, they have often invited my son or other athletes to help man the drive-through window - a great honour for the athletes. Tim Hortons in Olds is the best!

Shayla Hurley and Amelia Hurley-Lehnerz

These 2 young ladies are the nieces of a Special Olympics athlete. They do not see differences, but instead choose to include everyone in all that they do. At school, they are champions for those less fortunate and are always the first to step forward to help out. They work with individuals with disabilities in their schools, making sure everyone is included in all aspects of school life. Their Uncle Bill (SOA-Calgary athlete) has taught them that everyone is the same but just learn in a different way.

Bill Hurley

Bill is a Special Olympics Alberta-Calgary athlete, and loves to make everyone feel at ease. From a young age Bill has embraced everyone around him and educated people about all his abilities. He has always been included in all aspects at school, and as a part of university life when he attended the University of Calgary. Bill’s mission is to make sure that everyone is included to the best of their ability and to help those out that need it. He embraces life to the fullest and wants everyone to come together as one. Bill sees no differences in people and his favorite saying is: “I love my life and all that are in it.”

Terri Didack

Terri is a SOA-Medicine Hat athlete who is in bowling and bocce. She has a positive mindset and cares about others. Terri is a Champion of Inclusion as she is a team player and thinks about others. You can find Terri cheering on her team and making positive interactions to include all volunteers and athletes. During COVID-19 Terri has stated a concern about athlete mental health during this time. She has asked if she could make a video of strategies, she is using to help her with her mental health that might help others. We thought that is a great idea! We are thankful to have Terri apart of Special Olympics!

Ron Cholette

We are nominating Ron because he is the definition of an inclusion champion. Whether it be through his employment with Driving Miss Daisy, or respite work or volunteering with Special Olympics, you always feel like one of his family. Ron is the first one to volunteer for events, he is the goofiest guy around and always makes the athletes smile and laugh. Ron never forgets to include anyone in sports and is the biggest cheerleader to all the athletes. He has been coaching basketball for a few years and is always eager to get on the court to play against the athletes and encourages and pushes them to achieve their best. With Ron you are not only getting an amazing coach but also a true friend that you know cares about everyone’s well being. I have known Ron for many years as he began driving my sister with his employment through Driving Miss Daisy and now he is just another support for our family which alleviates some worries for my sister as she grows up and becomes more independent. I know that we can rely on Ron to be there for Amanda if we are unable to be. Ron is an amazing person and never seeks out recognition but he is worth being recognized.

Tara Wilson

Tara Wilson is a champion of inclusion because she is a role model and I admire her as a dance teacher and I call her my friend. I am dancing with other adults and I am a part of the hip-hop community in Calgary. My dancing is “dope” and I love to dance my heart out, thank you Tara.
We know that our daughter is welcome to attend any class offered or any hip-hop camp taking place. Tara’s staff at the studio has the same value of inclusion and acceptance of all in their dance classes. Our daughter has made many friends through the studio and has become an amazing dancer that others admire at the same time having a blast and getting fit.

Heather Crippen

Heather Crippen is a champion of inclusion because she teaches me modifications and movements of the workout for the day in the gym or on Zoom. She knows it is important as an SO athlete to be very fit and supports me in a great way to be included. All the coaches and staff at 403 Fitness help me to be a part of the crossfit community. Heather models inclusion in the gym as a coach and a friend. Allie is benefiting tremendously from the relationships with the coaches and the other participants. She has friends and does drive herself to set personal goals. This gym has been a top money supporter for the CF24 over the past 5 years.

Sandie Caywood

Sandie is my boss at the Calgary Stampede where I volunteer as a horse mascot! She is fun to work with & very fair to everyone on our team. She taught me how to be a mascot that I had dreamed of being since I was little. She does not care that I have Down Syndrome just that I am safe on the job and have fun entertaining guests. No one even knows it is me in the horse suit because the number one mascot rule is never taking off your head in public! Ever! I love Special Olympics & I love being a mascot.

Barb Nicholson

Barb has for several years opened her home on a regular basis to 45 or more people who have varying degrees of special needs. They get snacks, social time in an inclusive environment. A hot meal is prepared and everyone gets fed. Special guests were invited and came from time to time including tactical police officers, Parliamentarians and even the Mayor of Calgary. The gathering was a highlight for many. Barb also fought to have David attend Mount Royal University and there David also secured a part time paying position in the Athletic Department.

Robin Forsyth

Robin is the true believer and active advocate for anyone who wants to excel his or her potential. She is not only passionate to use her coaching expertise but also creative to seek more opportunities for learning, competitions, community recognitions, and friendships. She doesn't leave my daughter behind but finds the best possible way for everyone's safety, training, and humanity as a whole. Robin is creating the real path for inclusion by her real actions which prove her as a true role model.

Leonka Kaluha

Leonka is a Special Olympic Athlete from Calgary and works hard in all aspects of her life to ensure that everyone has a voice and is included. She volunteers where ever and when ever she can. Inclusion to her when we talk about it is being accepted for who you are without explanation or judgement and being given the same opportunities as the next person. More than once when she has been told no or felt challenged by someone because she has a disability, she will respond … I am my own person and I deserve a chance. To me Leonka is a Champion of Life, a Champion of Fairness, and a Champion of Inclusion.

Danielle Swainston

Danielle was uneducated and unaware of persons with intellectual disabilities (except to see them at school) until she came to Special Olympics. Her entire world changed. Her interaction with the athletes was instant and comfortable. Plain and simple, the athletes accepted her immediately. Danielle is a wonderful asset to both the floor hockey and softball programs. More importantly, in her own words “I have become a better person since being involved with Special Olympics." She separated herself from school groups that were negative towards others and quite often was seen hanging out with an athlete or two; she communicates with most athletes outside the programs via messenger; she is vocal towards bullying, in particular on city transit when an athlete or any disadvantaged person is being wrongfully treated. Because of her change of awareness and mindset, she has also begun a career as a Health Aid. Before Special Olympics, she was not sure about post-secondary education because she did not know what she was good at; Special Olympics showed her the way!

Lake Bonavista Figure Skating Club

My daughter in 2014 was given a chance to move to the competitive side of the figure skating Special Olympics program. I was told that I should contact a club and get lessons from a coach more than what she had at Special Olympics, we contacted a club and called and called but never received a call back. I let the coach of Special Olympics know about my frustration and she set up a meet up with a coach. That was CJ Fernet from Lake Bonavista Figure Skating Club. CJ at the beginning was tentative but Barb Prystai just let her know to try to coach like she would do it with anyone else. CJ has told us that becoming JorDen’s coach has made her a better coach as she has learned to communicate better. The club made sure that JorDen was part of anything that the club was doing, along with clinics and banquets and the parents take JorDen into consideration when an event is being planned. The club and CJ now have more Special Olympic athletes training there and we are made to feel like we are wanted and never made to feel like we are intruding. The kids talk to JorDen and watch out for her.