Like many Canadians with an intellectual disability, the COVID-19 pandemic brought Special Olympics Ontario athlete Spring Ding’s busy schedule to a halt.
The 17-year-old with Down syndrome is used to an agenda packed with Special Olympics programs like athletics, bocce and basketball as well as dance classes and swimming lessons.
When programs were suspended in March 2020, Spring was at a loss without her regular activities and social network.
“I miss my friends,” Spring said.
Wanting to do something with her time, she and her family founded Sweet Spring, a handmade accessory shop that sells scrunchies made by the Toronto-based athlete.
The small, local business is completely family-run, with Spring’s sister Yolanda managing the website and social media and her mother Ivy helping with the products.
“It keeps her busy,” Yolanda said, adding that Spring makes about 10 scrunchies each week. “It’s a slow process, but Spring likes doing it.”
The family was inspired by John’s Crazy Socks, a father-son social enterprise created by a young man with Down syndrome who loves colourful and fun socks. He sells his “crazy socks” with a portion of the proceeds going to Special Olympics in the U.S.
“We thought, ‘Maybe we should do something like that,’” said Yolanda.
Spring learned how to use a sewing machine then launched Sweet Spring in August 2020, dedicating 10 per cent of all proceeds to Special Olympics Canada.
Orders for her handmade, bridal satin scrunchies came in fast.
“We were surprised with all the support from our community,” said Yolanda, adding that they were able to donate $100 over the holidays.
Although Spring has only been a Special Olympics athlete for four years, it’s “a huge part of her life,” said Yolanda.
Spring learned about Special Olympics Ontario through its Schools Program when she started high school at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough. Now in Grade 12, her bedroom is covered with Special Olympics ribbons and pins.
“Special Olympics was my first time seeing her so happy,” Yolanda said. “I have so many videos of her dancing and laughing. She just loves that energy and the crowd and connecting with her friends.”
“Even this year when it was online, she had a blast on the Zooms and talking with people.”
Special Olympics has taught Spring the importance of exercise, building good habits and setting goals.
Her latest goal?
“To make the National Team,” Spring said, referring to her hopes of one day qualifying for Special Olympics Team Canada.
“She really has a goal now and a dream and I think that’s really important,” Yolanda added.
With programs still on pause, Spring is working towards her goals by participating in Special Olympics Ontario’s virtual programming, going on the treadmill everyday, and delivering Sweet Spring packages on foot wherever possible.