ANTIGONISH — It was a star-studded week in Antigonish during the National Special Olympics Summer Games.
Mark Tewksbury, Canadian Olympic gold medalist, director of the Canadian Olympic Committee and chairman of the board for Special Olympics Canada, was in Antigonish and spoke to The Advocate of sport’s power to transform.
“Special Olympics means the world to me. I am reminded of all the things I love about sport — its power to transcend, to form community, to instill confidence and see people shine,” he said.
“Having kids start as young as two years old to learn things like motor skills and balance and fundamentals for human development… It is a very powerful organization.”
The Games in Antigonish marked the first time the national event was hosted outside of a major urban centre. “It has been a real insight into hosting these events in smaller communities in the future.”
Premier Stephen McNeil said he was proud to see the games in Antigonish.
“I believe so strongly in Special Olympics … I supported it long before this job. It is an organization that is the purest form, in so many ways, of sportsmanship, kindness, how we interact with each other, how we celebrate each other’s success.
“I am really grateful to Special Olympics Canada for taking a chance on a small rural region. The people of this region have really wrapped their arms around these games. You see it in the streets and you see it in the faces of the volunteers.”
Health and Wellness Minister and Antigonish MLA Randy Delorey said he was happy to see the games in his home town.
“What this does – not just for Antigonish, which has been abuzz — but for any community in Smalltown Nova Scotia or Smalltown anywhere in Canada, it shows the national stage we, too, can host these events,” he said.” We have the volunteers, the hospitality, the venues and we can make these things run.”
Kirsty Duncan, minister for Science and Sport, was in Antigonish to announce $16 million in funding for Special Olympics over four years and $2 million each year after in federal funding.
“We believe in Special Olympics, we believe in our athletes,” she said. “From the moment we got off the plane, the province was abuzz with the Games.”
Tewksbury added that the minister’s funding announcement augments what the group is already getting over the next four years.
“It means we can keep growing our program from coast to coast to coast and hopefully serve even more kids with intellectual disability through sport,” he said.
Central Nova MP Sean Fraser spoke about his joy of having the Games in his riding. “For the first small town to ever host, the impact will be immediate. The last Games in Corner Brook, N.L., had an economic impact of north of $5 million…It is not just about the economic impact but the social impact on the community and the athletes. We are doing the right thing but also the smart thing because it is a disservice when you marginalize or ignore people because of their background or ability.”
The economic impact of the games is far-reaching, said Cindy MacKinnon on behalf of Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores.
“Their family and friends were staying all over the province; they were shopping in our malls and in our stores.”
MacKinnon also spoke of the importance of Antigonish being the first rural host.
“It says we are a sport destination and a tourism destination and we have the capacity and ability to host these types of events in our region.”