Saskatchewan’s Haddad siblings were born into a welcoming and inclusive community.
Accomplished Special Olympics Regina athletes Tyler, 29, Matthew, 25 and Whitney, 22, credit their father Shane for paving them a path to inclusion.
“I learned from my parents to never give up and keep trying,” said Tyler, a floor hockey and soccer player who was named Special Olympics Canada’s 2018 Male Athlete of the Year. “If it wasn’t for my parents and if it weren’t for Special Olympics, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.”
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Shane fought for basic human rights as an individual with an intellectual disability.
“I’ve overcome a lot,” Shane said.
The discrimination started at a young age. Unable to read and write, Shane was sent to Edmonton – 800 kilometres away from his family in Regina – for high school, because his local school board claimed it wasn’t equipped to teach him.
He struggled being away from family, but four years later, he graduated and returned home.
At the age of 17, he joined Special Olympics Saskatchewan and immediately “felt at home.”
He joined floor hockey, basketball, softball, bowling, swimming and bocce.
"We made sure that society didn’t fail our kids" -- sHANE HADDAD
He met his wife, Brenda, through the program. Before they wed in 1989, they had to fight for the right to not only get married, but also have children – something they both always wanted.
“There’s a right to get married and a right to have children,” said Shane. “Everyone should have the opportunity to experience life to the fullest.”
Once married, Shane attended a career development program and set out on the job hunt. He had difficulty getting hired, so started his own company Grass and Snow Yard Care, which has been running for the past 25 years.
Determined to create a more accepting and inclusive society for his children, Shane also got involved with People First of Canada, a national organization representing Canadians with an intellectual disability. He served as President from 2006 to 2008 and 2011 to 2014. He continues to represent the Saskatchewan Chapter.
“At People First, we put our foot down and said, ‘See the ability – not the disability,’” said Shane. “We made sure that society didn’t fail our kids.”
Shane’s inspiring advocacy has been recognized within the Special Olympics community, with the Special Olympics Canada Dr. Frank Hayden Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as by the Government of Canada, with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.
His achievements ultimately set his children up for success.
Growing up watching Shane play floor hockey, all three joined Special Olympics as soon as they could.
While Whitney joined soccer and softball, Tyler and Matthew worked their way up to Shane’s competitive floor hockey team, which qualified for the Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017. They were the first father and sons to make Special Olympics Team Canada. They brought home silver medals.
“It was amazing – I never thought that I’d be able to go to the World Games with my dad and my brother,” said Tyler.
They’ve also found success outside of sport. All three graduated high school and found meaningful work, with Tyler taking over Shane’s business, Matthew working in construction and Whitney working at McDonalds.
While Shane is proud of his accomplishments and Special Olympics’ “50 years of inclusion,” there’s still more work to be done, he said.
“We’re much further along today, but there’s still the odd person that uses the R-word,” Shane added.
He’s hopeful his children will carry the torch forward, especially with Tyler following his footsteps and taking on leadership roles, like sitting on both the Special Olympics Regina and Saskatchewan Boards of Directors.
“Tyler is turning into me – he’s one heck of a good spokesperson,” Shane said.