SPORTS TALK: Special Olympics – the hidden gem of the NWT sports scene

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As the sports editor for Northern News Services, I always have events I enjoy covering and they are plentiful.

One of those is whenever Special Olympics NWT is doing something. It’s nice to be able to sit back and watch a group of athletes who are out there competing for the sake of competing. Now, some of you who know me will tell me that by uttering those words, I go back on everything I’ve ever said about sports.

The motto says it all:
“Let me win but if I cannot win, then let me be brave in the attempt.”

There are those who win and those who don’t but at the end of the day, the very fact that they’re competing is a win and the bravery these athletes show in the face of their disabilities is nothing short of heroic.

Here in the NWT, Special Olympics has been led by a wonderful group of people and it’s involved the Elkin family for a long time. If you or your child have ever gone through Special Olympics NWT, there’s a very good chance you’ve bumped into Cappy Elkin or Lynn Elkin at some point. Other people such as Mahasi Ortega, Jane Arychuk, David Gilday and Tanis Hunter have also been instrumental in making sure the program has been kept going over the years.

One thing you will never see from a Special Olympian is sadness if they don’t win. They will be happy if they win – and believe me, they are happy when they win – but you will never see them destroy anything or throw a tantrum or swear at anyone.

I remember a conversation I once had with Tammy Johnson, mother of Mark Epelon a Special Olympian who competed with Team Canada at the 2015 World Games in Long Angeles. She said it best when she told me that watching the Special Olympics makes one think differently about what competition really is.

She’s absolutely right. Whenever I watch the Special Olympics, I put aside the win-at-all-costs attitude and enjoy myself.

And that’s why I love it so much.

No one works in the Special Olympics for personal gain. There are no big professional contracts. No amateur scouts. No endorsements.

It’s about the athletes, plain and simple. You can’t say that about a lot of sports these days. Ever seen the documentary Trophy Kids? If not, I demand that you see it or have it force-fed to you so you don’t make the same mistakes those numpty parents make.

It’s hard not to smile when you see a Special Olympian compete. They’ve trained hard for what they’re doing and they’re giving it their all. They’re also very happy to pose for a photo if they know I’m around.

Take Chris Strus, for example, the young man you will have read about in today’s sports section. He always lets me know he’s there when I’m covering something and he makes sure I have my camera ready.

Cynthia Simmons is another one who’s always smiling and happy and makes sure I’m getting her when she’s in speed skating mode. She’s done her bit for Queen and country, having raced for Canada at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea. She made sure to text me all the way across the Pacific Ocean to keep me up to date.

Yellowknife Special Olympians have enjoyed success competing with Team Canada. They usually medal. Simmons did so, winning two silver medals in 2013. Terry Kuliktana won a sliver medal when he was with the swimming team at the 2007 Games in Beijing, China. Epelon won himself a silver medal in the pool in Los Angeles in 2015.

When you’re winning a medal representing your country, that’s a proud moment and that needs to be celebrated.

Then again, Special Olympians themselves need to be celebrated because they’re doing it for the love of the game. And we need more of that.

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James McCarthy
After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better part of the last 10 years over two stints. I’m living the dream of everyone who said they would never get married and never have kids with the best wife you could ask for putting up with my crap for the past 11 years along with two daughters who are more beautiful than yours. Forever outnumbered when it comes to house choices, at least the dog has my back ... whenever I feed him. When you see sports happening, call the hotline at 867 766 8257.