Inspiring athletes take centre stage in 2019 SOBC Athlete Leadership Conference

Special Olympics athlete speaker Simone Myers
Special Olympics BC – Port Alberni's Simone Myers excelling in her Athlete Speakers Bureau 2 final speech.

At the 2019 Special Olympics BC Athlete Leadership Conference, 49 amazing athletes from all over the province built skills, expressed their valuable perspectives, and inspired with their stories on April 6 and 7 in Richmond. “Special Olympics is a place where no one gets left behind,” as SOBC – Coquitlam athlete Nathan McManamna said in his thoughtful Athlete Speakers Bureau 2 speech. 

Through Special Olympics BC Athlete Leadership programs, athletes develop the skills and abilities to take leadership positions in a number of roles including public speaking, sitting on Local Committees, and assisting as fundraising and program volunteers. These programs are proven to have a lasting benefit to participants by increasing confidence and self-esteem as well as helping them share their input and experiences – their insights make a difference to our movement, province, and planet!

This year’s SOBC Athlete Leadership Conference included the Athlete Speakers Bureau 1 and 2 public speaking courses and delivered training to become Health Heroes, Health Messengers, Athlete Reporters, anti-bullying advocates, and experts in creating Powerpoint presentations. The conference also included an Athlete Input Council session that both gathered important athlete feedback on SOBC issues and offered training to participate in Athlete Input Councils, under new Special Olympics curriculum.

There were several firsts in this year’s conference. This was the first time SOBC had the opportunity to welcome SOI’s Kristin Hughes Srour to deliver Health Messenger training. This Special Olympics International course teaches athletes about health topics such as nutrition, hygiene, fitness, making healthy choices, how to advocate for the health of people with intellectual disabilities, and how to champion access to health in their communities.

Each Health Messenger will complete a practicum when they return home to put what they learned in action. They will be leading the way to help ensure Special Olympics athletes are healthy and influencing the community, partners, and government to achieve inclusive health. Please click here to learn more about Health Messenger training.

This was the first time SOBC held the new Athlete Input Council course, which helps equip athletes to share their perspectives in committees, and to develop Athlete Input Councils all over. The participating SOBC athletes provided important feedback on a wide range of SOBC issues. They were joined by Special Olympics staff from across Canada to learn about this course, so these staff members can implement the training in their own Chapters and increase the reach of important athlete input nationwide.

This was the first time SOBC hosted training to create and deliver impactful Powerpoint presentations, a valuable skill in all areas of life, in a super session led by volunteer Brendon Schmidt. And this year’s Athlete Leadership Conference was unique because it included a super-fun Saturday-night celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics movement! Brilliantly hosted by SOBC Director Susan Wang of Surrey and former Special Olympics Global Messenger Matthew Williams of SOBC – Langley, the festivities included trivia, memories, and a lot of fun celebrating 50 years of this empowering movement.

This year’s conference marked the second year for the Health Heroes course, where athletes become equipped to advocate at events on specific health topics such as sun safety and hydration. It was also the second year for the Athlete Reporter course developed and led by SOBC – Victoria coaches Andrea Boyes and Tess van Straaten. CHEK newscaster van Straaten and former radio journalist Boyes are both Special Olympics coaches and volunteers who have gone above and beyond by using their journalistic backgrounds to create this course that empowers athletes to tell their stories and report on Special Olympics. SOBC can’t wait to share the athletes’ stories in our channels! SOBC – Victoria Athlete Reporter Sheenagh Morrison ably helped van Straaten and Boyes lead the course.

Special Olympics BC Athlete Speakers Bureau 1 participants 2019
This year's stellar group of Athlete Speakers Bureau 1 athletes and volunteer mentors and facilitators.

This was also the second year of offering the Understanding Bullying course that helps equip athletes to address and end bullying behaviour. This year’s participants all did a wonderful job of engaging with the material and sharing insights, and they were supported by local RCMP members who helped offer guidance. Please click here to learn more about this course, which can be offered around the province.

The participants in the traditional Athlete Speakers Bureau 1 and 2 public speaking courses did a phenomenal job honing their skills to write and deliver speeches that powerfully share their experiences and the importance of Special Olympics. 

“The reason why I became involved in Special Olympics is because I wanted a better life for myself. I wanted to be more active and make more positive friends,” SOBC – Port Alberni’s positive personality Simone Myers said in her ASB 2 speech. She encourages all athletes to not be afraid to try new things! 

In Athlete Speakers Bureau 1, SOBC – Williams Lake athlete Austin Weber led the room in a rousing rendition of the Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath, and shared how Special Olympics gives him independence, leadership, opportunities, learning, fitness, opportunities to travel, and so much more. 

“Special Olympics is great because it gives me a place in the community,” Weber said. Please click here to read more in the Williams Lake Tribune.

We strongly encourage you to be inspired by watching all the athlete speeches:

We applaud ALL the amazing athletes and dedicated volunteers who made this weekend of inspiration possible and so powerful!

We sincerely thank RBC Foundation as well as Canada LifeGreat-West Life, and London Life for their generous support of Athlete Leadership programs.

2019 SOBC Athlete Leadership Conference photos

2019 SOBC Athlete Leadership Conference participants

Athlete Speakers Bureau 1

Matthew Burns  Mission Paul Burns
Justice Erickson Abbotsford Desiree Morhart
Jordyn McGregor Powell River Mikayla Likar
Jennifer Ferrier Victoria  Dave Hettle
Reid Demelo Coquitlam Joe Demelo
Christopher Lakusta Langley Laurie Lakusta
Austin Weber Williams Lake Cheryl Chan
Ben Stein Cranbrook Ivy-Lynne Stein
Katherine St. Amand Ridge Meadows Susan St. Amand
Lindsay Pearson Sunshine Coast Allyson Pearson
Kristina Tammark North Shore Tracy Evans
Aaron Taylor Victoria Monika Miskiewicz
Erin Thom Cranbrook Alan MacBane

Facilitators: SOBC volunteers Charlotte Taylor, Andrea Boyes, and Jackie Lowrie

Athlete Speakers Bureau 2

Marc Theriault Surrey Shelly Canuel
Ryan Canuel Surrey Shelly Canuel
Simone Myers Port Alberni Barb Van Zoeren
Kent Plettl Kamloops Jane Raggatt
Megan Gourley Kamloops Tamara Turner
Michael Langridge Victoria Kyle Erikson
Devon Marsland-Anderson Coquitlam Eileen Marsland
Nathan McManamna Coquitlam Laurie McManamna
Sheenagh Morrison Victoria  Morven Inglis

Facilitators: SOBC volunteers Marilyn McLean and Tess van Straaten

Athlete Input Council

Simon Phipps Nanaimo Angela Behn
Tanya Norman Powell River Gail Likar
James Clifford        Abbotsford Edna Clifford
Mike Cook Castlegar Michelle Kelso
Shayne Blandin        Oceanside Colleen Stewart
Kevin Baldwin        Nanaimo Sylvia Taylor
Cheyenne Attachie Fort St. John Kathy Turney
Glenda Melynchuk    Quesnel Megan Tilsner
Brock Terlesky      Quesnel Megan Tilsner
Lorraine Dick     Williams Lake Susan Means
Justin King Mission Ashmita King
Bryce Schaufelberger Mission Ashmita King
Christian Burton Langley Jayne Burton
Chris Zorn  Prince George Sandra Stewart
Hannah Taylor     Campbell River Lynne Macara

Facilitator: Rachel Borer, Special Olympics Canada

Health Messengers

Paige Norton Abbotsford Tom Norton
Garrett Brietzke Oceanside Barb McLeod
Maria Stamatelakis Fort St. John Shyla Francis
Julie Black Cowichan Valley Amy Gibb
Jake Hooper Comox Valley Caitlin Hooper
Pierce Burns North Shore Emma Clark
Kaylee Richter Smithers Gale Jones
Ariel Taylor Coquitlam Sarah Wasik
Stacy Whomes Prince Rupert Val Whomes
Denise Siggs Campbell River Carla Pindera
Matthew Basso Campbell River Cheryl Clay
Vincent Li Richmond  

Facilitator: Kristin Hughes Srour, Special Olympics International

Sunday sessions


SOBC athlete leaders are active all over the province, country, and planet, providing important and inspiring athlete perspectives. SOBC – Comox Valley athlete Jake Hooper serves on the Special Olympics Canada Athlete Leadership Council and the North American Leadership Council. “I aim to help athletes to the best of my ability,” Hooper says. 

To learn more about upcoming workshops and engage local athlete leaders, contact SOBC's Michelle Cruickshank by email or by phone at 250-208-5402.