Saying thanks to Special Olympics BC’s phenomenal coaches!

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In National Coaches Week, we turned the spotlight on Special Olympics BC’s phenomenal coaches! A driving force of the Special Olympics movement, these individuals offer more than just sport instruction. They are teachers, role models, mentors, and friends.

Due to the relentless dedication of our coaches, individuals with intellectual disabilities achieve so much and show they are capable of so much in sport and life. Whether pushing for one more lap, or sharing a laugh on a Zoom dance party, our coaches have a tremendous positive impact on athletes and communities around the province.

While 2020 has presented a number of new challenges, it has also provided new opportunities. True to the spirit of the Special Olympics movement, SOBC coaches have risen to the challenge, showcasing their dedication and their ability to adapt and overcome.

We recognize the incredible efforts of the Return to Sport Pilot Program coaches who have been going above and beyond to ensure that athletes can return to activity safely. While things look a little different, it’s been business as usual for these coaches when it comes to motivating their athletes to be the best they can be. To date, more than 100 coaches and volunteers have completed the required SOBC Return to Sport training to help safely reopen some in-person sport programs.

Week one of SOBC – Quesnel’s track Pilot Program.
Week one of SOBC – Quesnel’s track Pilot Program.

Coaches across the province have been getting creative and working around the clock to keep athletes engaged and keep them moving. It is no small task, and our sincerest thanks to all coaches for their unwavering support during these times.

SOBC – Kelowna’s Club Fit coach Shayla McLean has been a model citizen when it comes to adaptability. She says, “Being a coach means thinking on your feet, constantly ebbing and flowing with all of the ups and downs, and obstacles that come in your way. You may have the perfect lesson plan one night, but if your athletes don’t click with a certain drill or exercise you better be ready with options B, C, D, E, and possibly even F!”

McLean has been leading free workouts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on Facebook for any Special Olympics athletes that would like to follow along. She was able to host these fun exercise classes live throughout the summer, but has kept the program going since returning to work by uploading recorded versions to the SOBC – Kelowna’s Facebook Page.

“When I first started doing the Facebook workouts, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I received from athletes, coaches, and parents. It was a feeling I still can’t put into words, but one that made me feel so connected and joyful during a very difficult time for everyone,” McLean said.

Shayla McLean of SOBC – Kelowna releases virtual workouts three times a week.
Shayla McLean of SOBC – Kelowna releases virtual workouts three times a week.

These workouts give athletes a means to stay active, but it also provides them with the social support that we all need.

“Now more than ever, I think it is important to keep cheering each other on and working together as a team to come up with new and innovative ways to keep the Special Olympics spirit alive and keep our athletes moving together, even if we have to be apart,” McLean said.

While the methods of engagement may differ between communities, there is a consistent theme right across the province when it comes to our coaches. They care. They constantly take time from their own schedules to ensure that SOBC athletes have sport opportunities and so much more.

SOBC – Victoria’s multi-sport coach and Local Committee member Kyle Eriksen and swimming Head Coach Susan Simmons have been meeting with athletes every night for an hour on Zoom. “They have gone above and beyond as volunteers for our athletes,” said SOBC – Victoria Public Relations Coordinator Andrea Boyes.

Despite most face-to-face programs being paused, Simmons is now finding herself coaching six days a week instead of two in order to help athletes navigate their way through the pandemic. Each day of the week features a different workout with a special weekend Zoom meeting that ranges from virtual dance parties to sing-alongs, show-and-tell, or talent shows.

Workouts originally lasted 20 minutes, but have now grown to 40 minutes or more. Simmons says, “On the first night I think we did 150 squats; 25 weeks later we are at 400 – and they keep coming back for more! I am both impressed and inspired by their commitment.”

A Special Olympics BC – Victoria Zoom Room session!
A Special Olympics BC – Victoria Zoom Room session!

Simmons said, “When I look back I will think of the Zoomers as the group that helped me. They are keeping me fit, and every night before I go to bed I get to hang out with some of the most loving people I know. I am proud of the athletes for sticking to the exercise program and I really enjoy the conversations we have after we are done.”

By creating this “Zoom Room,” Simmons and Eriksen have developed the framework for social connections to thrive and have empowered the athletes to take matters in to their own hands. Eriksen says, “These times have been quite hard for some, so when one [athlete] is emotional everyone rallies to pick their friend up. It’s pretty great to see that no matter the circumstances, the athletes are always there for one another.”

Club Fit coaches Angela Thompson from SOBC – Fort St. John, Alisa and Elena Sirois from SOBC – Campbell River, and Tanis Thiessen from SOBC – Langley have all hosted similar Facebook or Zoom exercise sessions for local athletes. Through the virtual format, these coaches continue to help athletes maintain and improve upon their skills and fitness.

Misty Pagliaro (bottom left) soaking up the sun in Abu Dhabi with the Team Canada golf team at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.
Misty Pagliaro (bottom left) in Abu Dhabi with the Team Canada golf team at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

2020 SOBC Howard Carter Award winner Misty Pagliaro, from SOBC – Kimberley/Cranbrook, hosted Facebook Live golf training sessions for athletes looking to work on their game from home. Her award nominators said, “Every video demonstrates not only Misty’s knowledge of the sport and her ability to remotely teach skill development, but her personality also shines through and provides athletes and volunteers alike with the connection that we are all missing during these physically distant times. She is creative, innovative, and passionate when it comes to helping our athletes develop new skills.”

Rod Cowie (middle) and Rita Wares (right) feeling the love at the 2019 Vancouver Invitational soccer tournament.
Rod Cowie (middle) and Rita Wares (right) feeling the love at the 2019 Vancouver Invitational soccer tournament.

Rod Cowie and Rita Wares were this year’s deserving winners of the SOBC Grassroots Coach Award. As co-Head Coaches of SOBC – Vancouver’s soccer program for more than 30 years, this dynamic duo have touched the lives of many throughout their community. Through outstanding leadership, Rod and Rita have built a supportive community of coaches, parents, caregivers, donors, supporters, and officials. This support network has proven to be more important now than ever.

Our appreciation also goes out to the dedicated Team BC 2020 coaches and training coaches for all of their hard work this year! They gave generously of their time, skills, expertise, and heart to help athletes ensure that they were performing at their best. Special Olympics Team BC 2020 attained 145 medals, a significant quantity of personal-best performances, and friendships that continue to grow.

Team BC 2020 coaches at the Coach and Mission Staff Summit in 2019.
Team BC 2020 coaches at the Coach and Mission Staff Summit in 2019.

From all the hours training the fundamentals, to the hoots and hollers from the sidelines in Thunder Bay, these coaches were there every step of the way and helped create achievements and experiences that will be remembered forever! A huge thank you to all Special Olympics BC coaches for their year-round dedication. They push athletes to achieve new heights, lend a helping hand when needed, and cheer on athletes in sport and beyond.

Words of appreciation from the SOBC community

Ashley Adie says, "Since 2003 [Maureen Hunter] has played a massive role in my life, inside and outside Special Olympics. She believes in pushing her athletes to be their absolute "Personal Best", holds them accountable, yet is also the type of coach whom I can come to for anything."

Kayley Olund-Rak comments on her coach Deborah Carter, " I don't know where I'd be without you and all your hard work training me physically, mentally, and emotionally. You never gave up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself. I will always be forever grateful for everything you've done for me, you truly did change my life in the best way over all the years!"

Jeff Martin says, "My favorite current coach is Kyle Eriksen, our head coach for SOBC - Victoria's floor hockey program. He makes floor hockey fun, but he has also helped to set up the program to bring in coaches and volunteers that help make the Victoria athletes better. He takes the time to get to know the athletes and volunteers and he never talks down to the athletes. He gives a lot of his time and we are lucky to have him!"

While Special Olympics BC coaches come from all walks of life, they are united in their selfless pursuit of a world of respect and inclusion. The impact they have on athletes and those around them is immense, and for that we say thanks coach!

Be sure to check out our coaching tools and resources here.