Each year Special Olympics Canada recognizes its incredible athletes, coaches and volunteers from across the country who exemplify the spirit and essence of the movement at the Special Olympics Canada National Awards Night.

Meet the 2019 honourees who will accept their awards at the Thursday, November 14 event in Toronto.


Femal Athlete of the Year - Tiannaa
FROM: Englefeld, Saskatchewan
SPORT: Swimming, floor hockey

When Saskatchewan’s Tianna Zimmerman joined Special Olympics five years ago, she wore a life jacket to swim practice and an aqua belt to her first competition.
Today, she is a Special Olympics World Champion after bringing home gold in the women’s relay and bronze in the 800-metre freestyle from the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

A young athlete and relatively new to swimming, Tianna’s confidence grew with her skills in the pool. She progressed from short freestyle and backstroke distances to the 800-metre freestyle, along with the butterfly and breaststroke events. She was determined to learn how to dive and flip-turn as well. She approached every challenge head-on and excelled.

Tianna has not only grown as an athlete, but also in life. She’s been the athlete representative on her local Community Executive Committee and continues to serve as cheerleader and a beam of positivity for her teammates. 



Male Athlete of the Year
FROM: Durham Bridge, New Brunswick
SPORT: Swimming, bowling, athletics, basketball

When New Brunswick’s Jesse Canney joined Special Olympics 12 years ago, he was a non-verbal athlete. Today, he makes connections with his teammates, interacts and trades pins with competitors, answers questions and make comments – and those social skills continue to grow on a daily basis.
He’s seen the same progress in sport, as a bowler, track and field athlete, basketball player and, most notably, a swimmer.
He’s worked hard to improve his skills from a novice level swimmer to an elite category, learning intricate stroke techniques in the pool and participating in highly specialized and advanced daily training.

He’s qualified for regional, provincial, national and international competitions, including the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, where he brought home three gold medals and one silver.

Jesse approaches his success with grace, humility and tenacity. He’s a role model for fellow athletes and – without being asked – takes on leadership roles with his team.


TEAM OF THE YEAR - Curling Exploits

0"Team of the Year - Curling Exploits"
FROM: Grand-Falls Windsor, Newfoundland
SPORT: Curling

In just four short years as a team, Newfoundland’s Curling Exploits has accomplished a lot – on and off the ice.
Since forming the team, the Curling Exploits have collected three gold medals and one silver. Their highest level of competition was at the Special Olympics Newfoundland Winter Games earlier this year, where they went undefeated, earning their spot on Special Olympics Team Newfoundland for the upcoming Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020.

As a team, they’ve not only learned what it takes to win, but also how to lose with grace. They’ve become a family, learning how to communicate, respect and support one another. The team, which ranges in athletes aged 19 to 63, also acts as role models in their community and help out at almost every event by fundraising, volunteering or public speaking.

This isn’t their first Team of the Year Award either – Grand-Falls Windsor named the Curling Exploits its 2018 Team of the Year for the entire town at its Civic Awards.



Female Coach of the Year - Angela
FROM: Nanaimo, British Columbia
SPORT: Athletics, figure skating, alpine skiing, ClubFit, soccer, aquatics, rhythmic gymnastics and snowshoeing

After 32-years of coaching, Angela Behn’s commitment to Special Olympics athletes has never faltered.

The athletics, figure skating, alpine skiing, ClubFit, soccer, aquatics, rhythmic gymnastics and snowshoe coach first got involved with Special Olympics British Columbia when she was 18-years-old.

Since then, she’s completed a number of certifications and seminars to enhance her knowledge and qualifications, from coaching and officials courses to competition workshops, performance programs – and even sign language courses.
She can always spot an athlete’s potential and will work with them to develop their skills, ultimately helping them reach national and international levels of competition.

A lifelong learner, Angela is known for her wealth of knowledge and athlete-centred approach to coaching. She serves as a mentor to many athletes as well as coaches, not only from her hometown of Nanaimo, but throughout the province and country.



Male Coach of the Year - Peter
FROM: Burnaby, British Columbia
SPORT: Athletics and basketball

Over the past 10 years, Special Olympics British Columbia’s Peter De Marchi has gone above-and-beyond as a volunteer coach.

Not only is he head coach of both Special Olympics BC – Burnaby’s basketball and athletics programs, he also sits on his local Executive Board as Program Coordinator – a position he’s held since 2011 – where he helps secure program facilities and assists new coaches in program placement.

An experienced middle/long distance runner – having qualified and run the Boston Marathon himself – Peter has helped athletes excel in the 800-metre, 1,500-metre, 3,000-metre, 5,000-metre and 10,000-metre events. He brings a positive attitude to each practice and is always willing to cater programs and training to each athlete’s individual needs to ensure their success. For example, in preparation for the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games in 2014, Peter met with one of his athletes each week to run 10,000-metres. The athlete said they’d never felt more supported by a coach than with Peter




Named after the late Jim Thompson, former TSN President and Special Olympics champion, this annual award is given to an operational volunteer who has made a significant contribution to the Special Olympics movement locally, provincially, and/or nationally, and has best exemplified the spirit, philosophy and goals of Special Olympics Canada.

FROM: Pictou County, Nova Scotia
SPORT: Rhythmic gymnastics

Pictou County’s Lesley Sobey has made an impact on Special Olympics Nova Scotia as a volunteer, coach, fundraiser, committee member and, of course, cheerleader.
Over the past 11 years, she’s served as Fundraising Chair for her local region, sat on the Games Organizing Committees for Provincial Games and also served as Mission Staff at a number of competitions.
Most notably, Lesley helped bring the rhythmic gymnastics program to Pictou County and took it upon herself to undergo extra training to ensure the program’s success. She’s been a rhythmic gymnastics coach for the past four years.
With every role, Lesley continues to exemplify the spirt, philosophy and goals of the Special Olympics movement. She goes above-and-beyond the expectations of a volunteer, always has the athletes’ interest at heart and takes great pride in seeing their smiling faces. 



Mike and Michael

Named after the late Frank Selke Jr., Hockey Night in Canada personality and one of Special Olympics Canada’s first celebrity ambassadors, this annual award is presented to a fundraising volunteer(s) who’s made significant contribution to the movement locally, provincially, and/or nationally, and has best exemplified the spirit, philosophy and goals of Special Olympics Canada.

FROM: Vancouver, British Columbia

British Columbia’s Michael Blonde and Mike McClenahan have been championing motionball’s Marathon of Sport in Vancouver since 2010.
The 2019 event alone raised an impressive $180,000 for Special Olympics programs across the province.

As the two longest-serving members of the Vancouver event’s volunteer organizing committee, the pair act in various leadership roles, including co-event directors. They not only collect donations from personal and corporate networks, but also contribute personally, while encouraging their peers to participate as well. Through their leadership, Marathon of Sport Vancouver has seen tremendous growth, not only in funds raised, but also in number of participants.

Michael and Mike are true champions of inclusion. For many participants of Marathon of Sport, it’s the first time they’ve ever socialized with someone with an intellectual disability, which is often an eye-opening and incredibly inspiring experience. Thank you, Michael and Mike, for helping to create a more inclusive society.

Named after the late Frank Selke Jr., Hockey Night in Canada personality and one of Special Olympics Canada’s first celebrity ambassadors, this annual award is presented to a fundraising volunteer(s) who’s made significant contribution to the movement locally, provincially, and/or nationally, and has best exemplified the spirit, philosophy and goals of Special Olympics Canada.




Named after the late Detective Constable Robert Plunkett, a 22-year veteran of York Regional Police who was a leader in both the community and Special Olympics, this award is presented to a Law Enforcement Torch Run representative who best exemplifies the spirit, philosophy, dedication and goals of the Law Enforcement Torch Run and the Special Olympics movement. 

FROM: Montreal, Quebec

Chief Inspector Pascal Richard with the Service de Police de la ville de Montreal has been making his mark in Quebec for several years.
Alongside his role as a law enforcement official, he works with a number of charities to help break down barriers by promoting social inclusion – one of those charities is Special Olympics.

Pascal has been a Law Enforcement Torch Run member and ambassador for 20 years, participating in many events from Special Olympics Games and competitions to Polar Plunges. He’s also taken on lead roles in organizing many of these events, helping to raise $120,000 for Special Olympics Quebec, while encouraging his fellow officers to get involved.

He’s also seen the movement’s impact firsthand, as his daughter Océane has been a Special Olympics Quebec athlete since 2012.




Named after Canada’s Dr. Frank Hayden, whose research sparked the Special Olympics movement 50 years ago, this award is presented to an athlete who has best exemplified the spirit, philosophy and goals of the Special Olympics movement over the course of their career.

FROM: Charlottetown, PEI
SPORT: Floor hockey, athletics, softball

Tommy MacGuigan has been a Special Olympics PEI athlete before the Chapter was officially incorporated in 1982. He is the province’s longest serving athlete.

More than 35 years ago, he started out in floor hockey and has since competed at 18 Special Olympics Canada Games (soon to be 19 after the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Thunder Bay 2020, where he’ll compete with his floor hockey team) for athletics, softball and floor hockey. He also qualified for and competed at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece in 2011.

An accomplished athlete and Special Olympics ambassador, Tommy truly is a humble champion. He never challenges his coaches or officials, he brings out the best in people and encourages the next generation to get involved.


THE HARRY “RED” FOSTER AWARD -  Terry Richardson


Named after the late Harry “Red” Foster, the sports broadcaster and advertising mogul who founded Special Olympics in Canada, this award is presented to an individual, volunteer or group who best exemplifies the spirit, philosophy and goals of the Special Olympics movement.  Like Mr. Foster, the nominee will have contributed significantly to the development, awareness and success of Special Olympics in Canada.

FROM: New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia’s Terry Richardson has lived and breathed Special Olympics for 35 years. In 1987, Terry became a volunteer in Pictou County and has since served on the community’s Regional Committee as Regional Coordinator, Fundraising Chair and Treasurer. In 2004, he joined the Special Olympics Nova Scotia Board of Directors and served as Chair from 2012 to 2016. He’s also sat on every Games Organizing Committee for Nova Scotia’s Provincial Games since 2001.

A hard-working and compassionate ambassador for not only Pictou County, but all of Nova Scotia, Terry has helped build valuable relationships with political and corporate leaders, while inspiring his network – including his family – to get involved or donate. 

While Terry has been an integral part of Special Olympics since the 1980s, he’s never in the limelight, but instead found in the background, stacking chairs, carrying water and, of course, serving the athletes.

His greatest joy within Special Olympics is seeing athletes compete, whether at a Regional, Provincial or National event.