Olympians focused on spreading the Special Olympics spirit across the country

Dave Kearsey dkearsey@thewesternstar.com
Published on March 4, 2016

Former Olympians Jamie Sale, left, and Catriona Le May Doan, photographed at the civic centre in Corner Brook

©Geraldine Brophy/The Western Star

Two former Olympians committed to promoting Special Olympics across the country were mingling with athletes at the 2016 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.

Speed skating star Catriona Le May Doan and pairs figure skater Jamie Salé were the special guests in the Corner Brook. Both serve as directors on the national Special Olmypics.

Le May Doan, Salé and Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury are the co-chairs of the Champions Network, a group committed to getting other Olympic and Paralympic athletes, retired or not, involved in the Special Olympics program.

Le May Doan was making her second visit to Corner Brook, having been here back in 1999 as a special guest for the Canada Winter Games.

She believes the world needs to know how Special Olympians can make a positive impact on the people who cross paths with them, both in sport and in everyday life.

“We can learn how to approach sport and how to approach life,” Le May Doan said Thursday, moments before sitting down to a luncheon hosted by Grenfell Campus vice-president Mary Bluechardt.

All you have to do is read the athlete’s oath for Special Olympics — “Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt” — to get a grasp on their positive impact on people, Le May Doan said.

That oath may be the mark of Special Olympics, but it’s no different for mainstream athletics, work and business, she said.

“How many of us are so afraid to put ourselves out there? Afraid to stand out good or bad, and afraid of failing or succeeding?” she asked.

LeMay Doan spent time with some snowshoers from Ontario at the speed skating venue Wednesday. She invited the team to come along to watch after the snowshoeing event got cancelled for the day due to a heavy dose of rain in the morning.

Of course, the double-gold medallist was asked for advice from some of the skaters, and she quickly obliged, reminding them to take things one day and one race at a tim. She knows there are those who have gold in mind when they hit the start line, and some have told her they are nervous before competition. She told them it’s perfectly normal, and that made them feel better.

She also reminded them how fortunate they are to be able to share the experience with fellow Special Olympians and be able to watch their friends compete against others from across the country.

But, most importantly, she wanted them to know how special they really are.

“I tell them to remember that you guys inspire us because you’re attitude is sometimes something we forget about,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

“They inspire us. I get really emotional.”

Salé also talked about how Special Olympians have been able to inspire others to rise above challenges. She likes to engage in conversation with the athletes to get a good sense of how they are feeling and encourages them in every way she can.

She realizes some athletes are focused on winning gold, while others are just happy to race and hang out with friends.

Salé — a gold medallist in pairs figure skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics — hopes people continue to see how Special Olympians are a model in so many ways, for so many people.

Both women couldn’t think of a better cause to support, and have become part of the family.