Tom Gibbs doesn’t get as many hugs as he used to.

As the president of the board of Special Olympics Yukon these past five years, he isn’t working with the athletes as much and he isn’t able to give out as many of those encouraging hugs.

“It is hard sometimes,” he said from the boardroom at the Special Olympics Yukon office. “I don’t see the athletes every week. But I understand this is a different kind of volunteering.

“But it is having an impact.”

When he says, “this kind of volunteering”, he is referring to the meetings and the signing of cheques and the discussions of policies.

These days, he is not ashamed to get excited about the “financials”.

“It is something we are very proud of, as we have taken a lot of steps to be more fiscally responsible and we have a lot things buttoned down,” he said enthusiastically.

“Our financials are great!”

That is important. “The heart of the organization is the athletes, but if we don’t have the financial backing, there is nothing for the athletes.”

Gibbs’ passion comes from a profound belief in the mission and accomplishments of Special Olympics.

He has spent his adult life working with youth who have intellectual disabilities and researching programs and techniques.

“Here in 2018, we know that our folks in Special Olympics are not only healthier, but they have a community and they are more employable and there are all kinds of benefits that are measurable from the opportunities that Special Olympics gives them,” he said with conviction.

Working with youth now, at InReach Programs, he first came into contact with Special Olympics in the mid-1990s as he counted laps in the pool for one of his clients.

“I was always looking for opportunities for them to become a part of the community and I saw that Special Olympics would provide that for the guys.

“I could immediately see what it was providing for the youth and adults who were involved and it made a difference. So of course I wanted to come alongside these people who were doing incredible work and help out in some kind of way.”

Then, in 2005, he made the decision to join the board: “I realized I had some strengths that could be an asset,” he said.

When Jim Tucker was ready to move on, it was just assumed Gibbs would become president, even though he wasn’t really considering it himself.

But he prefers the title “chair”, instead: “Obviously we need to have different jobs, but we don’t need different levels.

“It is a grassroots organization and we are all doing it because we are passionate about it.

“We each bring a unique set of skills and nobody is more important than anybody else.”

Gibbs credits his board members with providing a foundation for the successes of the staff.

“We have a fantastic staff,” he gushed. “I am just a volunteer, but this staff live it and do it every day.”

He remembers the mid-1990s when Special Olympics Yukon could not afford much more than one part-time employee. So, the work of the board is all the more important today to keep the four-person operation running so that the athletes can keep winning.

Umm, isn’t “winning” a dirty word?

“Of course not,” Gibbs exclaimed. “It is all about doing your very best!

“Special Olympics redefines what it means to win and that is fantastic.

“We see incredible growth. We see someone in the pool and it is an incredible success just for them to put their face in the water and that is a win.

“Then you see them swimming and that is a win.

“As they compete, they get personal bests and that is a win.

“And we become a community and that is a win.”

The next big fundraising event is the Special Olympics Yukon Festival Dinner Auction April 7. Tickets are available at events@specialolympicsyukon.ca or by calling 668-6511.