Success in sport is often tainted. It seems like it is happening now more than ever. Doping allegations, murder investigations, equipment tampering………the list goes on. But how about having a pure sport experience that is filled with pure joy and has no negative side at all? That, my friends is what I was so blessed to witness in PyeongChang 2013, the Special Olympic World Winter Games.
Having been asked to be honorary coach for Team Canada was exciting. I had the opportunity to meet the snow sport athletes at a training camp in Canmore a couple of months ago. The next time I saw them and met the rest of the team, was in Vancouver on January 24th at the team send off! It was a day of meeting athletes, coaches, mission staff, family, and volunteers. A bit of a blur for all of us!
I met up with the team again in Korea, and over the next week, I had some of my most memorable sporting experiences ever.
I marched with the team during the Opening Ceremony, watched their faces as they saw the performances play out, as the flame entered the stadium, and as the Games were officially opened.
I saw every sport that Canada participated in, during training and/or competition.
I was moved to tears when Philip realized he had won his speed skating race, pumped his arms into the air, and then threw himself to the ice in shock and joy!
I was so proud to see the alpine skiers in their training, ski so hard that many were moved up to the next level. Then to hear them tell me about how proud they were of how well they had done.
Barrett, the snow shoe athlete, who walked around and proudly showed everyone his ribbon he had won in his race. I am not sure he took it off all week!
At the cross country venue, I felt helpless as Shane and Rachel missed the transition to the tracks that led to the finish line. They had been skiing so brilliantly and had been so focused that they continued on the tracks that led them around the course one more time. They stopped and argued that they were done. Finally at different intervals, they had to ski back, make the transition to the finish area, and cross the line. Shane had such a lead that he still won the gold medal, and Rachel won the bronze even with the huge delay. There was no frustration – the smiles on the podium said it all!
The fist pumps from the floor hockey teams – both East and West were enough to bring all of us fans to our feet. We weren’t just cheering forTeam Canada, but also for the teams that only had enough helmets for those on the floor so that during the shift change, extra time was taken to switch the helmets to their teammates.
The hug between Marc and Michael after Michael won the silver medal in figure skating. The veteran Marc, competing at his 7th World Games, had given Michael advice the previous evening on how to prepare and how to visualize his program with no mistakes!
There were so many moments. So many conversations with the athletes that made me smile and pray that one day, my children will be as much of an inspiration to others as these athletes were to me.
Some of the most inspiring moments from Pyeonchang, however, will never be seen. Team Canada brought extra floor hockey sticks to the World Games because another country didn’t have any. The speed skaters let other athletes borrow neck guards because not only did some athletes not have any, but were just skating for the first time! That is unheard of in our competitive world of today. It is, however, the norm in the world of the Special Olympic Games. They truly experience pure sport.
Thank you Team Canada for the hugs, for the smiles, for the stories, for the inspiration, and for the joy!