About Us

What is Special Olympics?

Special Olympics is a dynamic, world-wide charitable organization dedicated to providing sports training and competition for people with an intellectual disability. Special Olympics athletes attain more than just sport skills through their involvement; they also develop social skills, learn about sportsmanship and camaraderie, as well as gain independence in everyday living.

Special Olympics began in the 1960s with Dr. Frank Hayden, a researcher from Toronto. Dr. Hayden’s research showed that given the opportunity people with intellectual disabilities could become physically fit and acquire the physical skills necessary to participate in sport. To overcome the common belief that low fitness levels of people with intellectual disabilities were a direct result of their disability, the concept of Special Olympics was created.

Special Olympics has grown considerably since the first games in Chicago in 1968. Now more than one million athletes from over 81 countries participate in Special Olympics programs. These athletes are supported by half a million volunteers who donate their time in a multitude of ways from working directly with the athletes (coaching, officiating) to administration to fundraising.

Special Olympics N.W.T.

Special Olympics N.W.T. is the territorial sport governing body responsible for the delivery of sport for people with intellectual disabilities in the Northwest Territories. It is a not-for- profit organization, registered as a charity within the NWT. Comprised entirely of volunteers, Special Olympics N.W.T. is governed by an 8-person Board of Directors.

Special Olympics N.W.T. (SONWT) started in Yellowknife in 1989 with four athletes in bowling. Today, athletes participate in swimming, bowling, speed skating, rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating as well as mini-sessions (3 – 5 weeks) in track and field, golf and snowshoeing.  There are also youth programs for those aged 2 – 11 – Active Start and Fundamentals.   Over 45 athletes participate with the help of over 40 volunteers .

Funding is provided to SONWT through our fundraising partner Law Enforcement Torch Run, public donations, grants, corporate sponsors and special fundraising events.


Special Olympics exists at many levels, with each level contributing to the development of programs and Special Olympics objectives. A brief description of the levels within the organization will provide an understanding of the structure and the activities within each level.

Community Affiliates

SONWT is a community based program. Programs are delivered in the community through affiliates of Special Olympics operated by teams of volunteer coaches, or in partnership with community sports clubs. These programs give athletes the opportunity to train, on a minimum of a weekly basis, to improve their skills and to compete against other athletes of similar ability.

There is great potential for a variety of sports programs in Special Olympics. The needs, interests, facilities and resources within the community can be considered when determining what sports can be offered. The challenge of each and every volunteer and community is to explore the possibilities and offer a number of official sports to the athletes of Special Olympics. For example, six programs currently run in Yellowknife from fall to spring: 5-Pin bowling, figure skating, speed skating, rhythmic gymnastics, swimming and youth development.

Affiliates also have an administrative component to provide for their overall operation and ensure the Special Olympics mandate is met. Affiliates are accredited by the territorial/provincial chapter to offer Special Olympics programs.

Currently, Yellowknife is the only affiliate in the NWT.