Special Olympics Ontario athletes and sisters Natalie and Nerissa Pooran did everything together.
Both diagnosed with the same rare intellectual disability, they struggled with mobility and coordination.
They joined Special Olympics Toronto’s North York-based swimming and athletics teams 30 years ago. It helped them grow, mature and make lasting friendships, while learning to better walk, run and compete.
Sadly, Natalie passed away in 2012 after battling a tumour in her stomach. She was 40-years-old.
The loss dealt a devastating blow not only to the Pooran family, but the local Special Olympics community.
“It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, emotionally, but we have learned to cope,” Zita Pooran said about the loss of her first-born child. “Even when I didn’t want to continue at times, Nerissa is so persistent; she was my strength actually to move on.”
Nerissa, now 38-years-old, encouraged Zita to return to Special Olympics.
“That’s one of the big bonuses of Special Olympics – meeting different people and meeting friends and really forming lifelong friendships,” said Zita, who also volunteers with the local club. “Not just for Nerissa, but for us as a family.”
While Natalie’s passing “will never be easy” for the family, her memory lives on within the Special Olympics community with the Natalie Pooran Memorial Track Meet, taking place Saturday July 27 at York University.
The event was first launched last year by the Special Olympics Toronto Community Council.
“Most of the track clubs knew and loved Natalie and love Nerissa and the family, which makes it extra special for them to compete in the track meet,” said council co-chair Lily D’Gama. “We at the Toronto Council hope that this meet continues for many years.”
For Zita, the event gives her something to look forward to, while reminding her of the “amazing accomplishments” her daughters have achieved through Special Olympics.
“We weren’t given very much encouragement, or a very bright future,” Zita said of her daughters’ prognoses. “So every milestone that we met was amazing.”
Nerissa and Natalie have not only competed regionally, provincially and nationally, but Nerissa was also one of the first Special Olympics athletes inducted into the Toronto Sport Hall of Honour.
“They would have never had these opportunities in mainstream sports,” said Zita.
The second annual Natalie Pooran Memorial Track Meet takes place Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University.