Leonka Kaluha Reflects on Journey to Becoming an Athlete Ambassador for the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024

As the excitement builds for the upcoming Special Olympics Canada Winter Games Calgary 2024, we are happy to introduce Leonka Kaluha, a remarkable athlete and a proud Athlete Ambassador for the Games. Beyond the medals, Leonka's journey with Special Olympics has been a transformative one, redefining perceptions and breaking down barriers. 

In this article, we look back at Leonka's inspiring speech, about facing challenges and overcoming adversity to becoming a beacon of empowerment for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Join us in learning how Special Olympics has not only changed Leonka's life but is making a meaningful impact on the lives of others.

Leonka Track and Field Hello, my name is Leonka and I am a proud Calgary Special Olympic athlete. I joined Special Olympics 22 years ago. My current sports are Floor Hockey, Bocce and Track and Field. I love them all as they allow me to compete as an individual or on a team, I feel supported as I learn new skills and work towards achieving my goals all while having fun.

My life has been full of different challenges including being bullied. I was denied opportunities in school by teachers to do sports as they said I wasn’t fast enough or coordinated enough leaving me hating myself for having a disability. 

At the age of 18 years, it was determined I could be my own legal guardian and one of my first big decisions was to join Special Olympics. I wanted to see what it was about, as many of my classmates in school would talk about their experiences. I signed up for swimming and 5 pin bowling. I didn’t know how to bowl but my coaches would high five me for doing a great job of cleaning the gutters with each throw of the ball. After a  weeks, they asked if they could give me some pointers as they felt the gutters were clean enough. In 2010 I proudly represented Alberta at the National Summer Games in London, Ontario for 5 pin bowling, arriving home with an individual bronze medal. I have won several medals over the years, but for me although the medals are amazing, it is much more, I began to love myself and no longer cared that I had a disability. I wasn’t denied opportunities rather encouraged. I started helping out at different fundraisers and sharing my story to different audiences.   

Special Olympics has changed my life. Through the years, with all the experiences I’ve had you could say that my self-esteem went through the roof.

Leonka Kaluha PaintingI found my voice and discovered I didn’t have a disability rather I have differing abilities. My advice to people who are thinking about joining Special Olympics is Do it!  You will learn and grow your skills, make new friends, be encouraged, and most importantly stay fit and have fun.  

When I’m not participating in my sports, I like to be creative draw, color and paint. I’ve sold a piece of art as far away as Hong Kong, and one of my art pieces was turned into socks which are sold by John’s Crazy Socks world-wide.  I spend time doing diamond art and Lego, can get lost in a good book and am always up for a movie!  And finally, I am a proud employee of Sobeys in Cranston where I work part time as a courtesy clerk.

I’m honored to be the Athlete Representative on the SOCWG 2024 Executive committee and one of the 5 Athlete Ambassadors for the games, you might say Together We Can, but I say together we are making a difference changing the lives of people with differing abilities, one sport at a time!

- Leonka Kaluha