Longtime Special Olympics athlete Gaetan Michaud has always felt included.
“I never had any real issues of being accepted,” the 38-year-old Yukon resident said
Gaetan – or Gaets, as his friends know him – and his family credit this to his involvement in Special Olympics at a young age.
Originally from Montreal, Gaets’ family transitioned him to special education classes when he was in kindergarten.
A representative from Special Olympics Quebec hosted an education session for his classmates’ parents, and Gaets’ mother decided to try out the local program.
His mother assumed they’d never go back, but as they walked out to the parking lot at the end of the night, Gaets immediately asked, “Are we going back next week?”
Thirty years later, and now living in Whitehorse, he’s still attending weekly Special Olympics programs. He started with athletics and now curls, plays soccer, bocce and golf.
“I love Special Olympics,” said Gaets. “It has helped me a lot.”
It’s not only helped him in sport – allowing him to compete in national competitions – but also in life.
Gaets is the Yukon representative on Special Olympics’ Canadian Athlete Leadership Council, a group of athlete representatives from across the country who bring the athlete voice to discussions on programming, coaching, competition, etc. to help improve Special Olympics as an organization.
He’s also spoken at and hosted a number of events locally and nationally, including Special Olympics Canada’s Awards Night – twice.
Outside of Special Olympics, Gaets works fulltime at McDonald’s and lives with his girlfriend Carrie, who is also a Special Olympics Yukon athlete.
He credits his success to “determination, a lot of effort, a lot of heart and, of course, my parents.”
Gaets’ passion for Special Olympics was contagious in the Michaud household: His mother served as a Special Olympics Quebec regional coordinator, his father volunteered at local track meets and his older brother Serge coached in Quebec and is now the CEO of Special Olympics Yukon.
“We never knew Special Olympics would be what it is today for our family,” said Serge. “I owe my career to Gaets – he held the torch for all of us.”
Coaching Gaets and his teammates allowed Serge to see firsthand the impact of the Special Olympics movement.
“There was a handful of the athletes that loved to be involved in Special Olympics, sure for the sport – and also for the comradery,” he said. “Whether you have an intellectual disability or not, humans strive for comradery, friendship and to be part of a team.”
That’s why Gaets is a dedicated athlete ambassador – he wants to raise awareness of the organization that helped shape who he is today.
“People just don’t know who we are or what we’re about,” Gaets said. “They need to know that we are just athletes that do sports and we have jobs.”
To support Canadians like Gaets, donate to Special Olympics Canada today.