Special Olympics Unified Sports is fostering a culture of inclusion across Canada and the rest of the world.
Unified brings together people with and without an intellectual disability on the same team with one simple principle in mind: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
Destiny Weston, a support worker for individuals with intellectual disabilities in Sault Ste. Marie, has seen the impact firsthand after just two short years as a Special Olympics Unified volunteer coach.
“I love the bond that they share and how they learn from each other,” said Weston, who’s currently coaching Unified bocce at White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School.
Unified allows her Special Olympics athletes to learn technical skills from teammates without an intellectual disability (referred to as partners), while the partners are reintroduced to the joy of sport by the Special Olympics athletes, learning to relax and enjoy the game.
“Seeing everyone together and the atmosphere that it brings is so rewarding,” said Weston.
Unified also helps the athletes realize they aren’t so different afterall, which Weston saw on her team’s trip to Toronto for the inaugural Youth Invitational Games in May.
“At the beginning of the season, the team didn’t know each other that well,” she said. “Then watching them on the bus ride and all of a sudden they’re sitting side by side and talking about their shared tastes in music, clothes and other things – I love it.”
For 16-year-old Special Olympics athlete Selena Ouellette, who travelled to Toronto as part of Weston’s bocce team, the camaraderie is her favourite part.
“It’s fun meeting other people,” she said. “It’s very friendly.”
Ouellette and Weston are just a small fraction of the 1.2 million people worldwide taking part in Unified Sports.
You can help athletes like Ouellette and her teammates create a more unified world by visiting your local Tim Hortons on Global Day of Inclusion Saturday July 20 for a Special Olympics Donut.
All proceeds from every donut sold will support Special Olympics athletes across Canada. Post a photo with your Special Olympics Donut to social media with #ChooseToInclude to spread the word.