Quebec’s Pedicelli family has watched Special Olympics Southwest Island grow from three athletes to more than 350 over the past 40 years.
Susan Pedicelli first got involved in 1979 – three years before Special Olympics was founded in Quebec.
The mother of three has a daughter with severe intellectual and physical disabilities, so when the late Noella Douglas – another Movement Maker who’s responsible for bringing Special Olympics to the province – asked her to start programs in the region, she jumped on board.
Susan started with two programs – athletics and swimming – and the region has since grown to offer 15 programs, including one called Athletic Club, which teaches basic motor skills to individuals of all ages with intellectual and physical disabilities. She also helped bring the Law Enforcement Torch Run to Quebec.
“We did develop a lot of programs and we did keep going because of my daughter Sandra,” Susan said.
Now 55-years-old and in a wheelchair, Sandra remains active and social, which Susan credits to her involvement in Special Olympics.
“My friends, my kids got involved because of Sandra. In our region, it grew because of her,” she said.
Susan’s husband and sister volunteer, as do her nieces, nephews and grandkids. Her son Dino got involved when he was just 13-years-old, and continues to coach and help with fundraising and administration. It’s also how he met his wife, a fellow Special Olympics coach.
“It’s a lifelong commitment,” said Dino, adding that many local volunteers have been involved just as long. “It’s like our extended family. We go celebrate New Year’s Eve and we’ve got a whole bunch of coaches, volunteers with us.”
Susan’s home also serves as the region’s headquarters – or “storage facility,” according to Dino.
“At one point we couldn’t even get one car in the garage, because all the equipment, all the clothing would be stored here,” he said.
The family has seen Special Olympics through thick and thin – as an organization and personally.
When Special Olympics Quebec went through financial struggles in the early 1990s, Susan called Paul Martin, their local MP and Canada’s Minister of Finance at the time.
Shortly after the call, Special Olympics Southwest Island received funding.
When Susan underwent treatment for ovarian cancer – twice – she “still ran the office from the hospital.”
The Pedicellis will forever be a Special Olympics family.
“You can be very tired … then you see those big smiles and you forget everything – you’re not tired anymore,” said Susan, who received the Order of Canada in 2005 for her ongoing contributions to the movement.
“I get mad at the parents more than I get mad at the athletes,” she added with a laugh.