Nova Scotia’s Michael McCarther has been volunteering with Special Olympics for half his life – and he’s only 31-years-old.
McCarther, now Vice-Chair of the Special Olympics Nova Scotia Board of Directors (and the youngest representative on it), began volunteering in Halifax when he was just 16-years-old.
“I was a slight keener of a high school student,” McCarther said with a laugh.
He was President of the student council and an athlete.
In 2005, his lacrosse coach, Steve Gilbert, hired McCarther to provide after school care for his son Stanley, who has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare childhood onset epilepsy that causes seizures and cognitive dysfunction.
In McCarther’s first week of work with Stanley, he took him to a Special Olympics speed skating practice.
“The bond and the openness and how appreciative everyone was there … it’s lessons we can all learn,” McCarther recalled of his first Special Olympics encounter. “I would have thought of myself as a very progressive, more accepting person before my involvement with Special Olympics – but I think it opened up my eyes. I had no idea what it actually meant to be inclusive and accepting.”
He immediately told Gilbert “you don’t need to pay me for this,” signed up to volunteer with Special Olympics Halifax and took Stanley with him to each practice. Within three weeks, he was co-head coach of the speed skating program and he and Stanley became fast friends.
According to Gilbert, also a Special Olympics coach and, at the time, volunteer Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Halifax, “he took Stanley everywhere.”
“These guys got along like two peas in a pod – like they were brothers,” he said.
McCarther became an advocate outside of Special Olympics as well, because he wanted Stanley and other students with an intellectual disability to have the same opportunities he had – like attending student leadership conferences with the Nova Scotia Secondary School Student Association (NSSSA).
That same year he launched The Inclusion Project, a NSSSA conference that pairs student leaders with students with an intellectual disability in leadership and development courses. The conference continues today with more than 200 students from across the province attending each year.
By the time McCarther was 19, he took over Gilbert’s role as Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Halifax, managing 225 athletes in 15 sport programs.
“He’s one of those guys that just stuck at it,” said Gilbert. “He could have been out there with the guys, the girlfriends and so on, but he was at Special Olympics.”
“He was the guy that we could count on – and still is. He’s a rare breed.”
Even when McCarther attended Acadia University in Wolfville – an hour from Halifax – he stayed involved. He went from coaching to sitting on the Halifax regional committee and then the Special Olympics Nova Scotia Board of Directors. He’s also coached at a number of Special Olympics Canada Games, as well as the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
While McCarther recognizes it’s difficult to volunteer while trying to build a career at his age, he believes Special Olympics also lead to his success as a Sales Manager in the tech industry.
“Being part of community groups has drastically improved my career,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for anyone that’s trying to build a career and build their own personal brand and reputation.”