Getting a medal is never the point of the Special Olympics Provincial Games. “We’re there to have fun,” says Gaetan Michaud, captain of Yukon’s Special Olympics soccer team. “It’s about doing your best.”
He should know. Michaud, now 37, has been participating in the Special Olympics since he was seven years old.
On July 5, he is one of 22 Yukon athletes with intellectual disabilities heading to the Provincial Games in Kamloops, British Columbia. Thirty-six people in total make up the contingent including coaches and Special Olympics staff.
The Special Olympics Provincial Games takes place every two years, alternating between winter and summer sports. Those who qualify this round go on to compete in the National Games, which take place next year in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
The athletes will represent the Yukon in six sports including swimming, soccer, rhythmic gymnastics, golf and bocce.
It’s an exciting time. Participants meet athletes from all over the West Coast. The trip is about camaraderie with their teammates and the chance to make new friends.
“I think Aimee has just as much fun cheering other people on,” says Sherry Dube, whose daughter Aimee Lien will be participating in the Games.
Lien, age 24, is competing in rhythmic gymnastics.
“The Games are a motivator,” Dube says. While training for the Games, “[Aimee] gets excited, gets confident and feels proud.”
It’s also an exciting time for coaches. Janine Peters, who currently coaches golfing, has been a coach with Special Olympics for 17 years. She will be attending with the team. A sport lover herself, she has coached a wide range of activities including swimming, curling, 5-pin bowling and softball.
Peters’ commitment to the Special Olympics has been motivated by a real love of helping people, especially those who are marginalized. She believes the Games gives them the chance to shine.
Training for the Games gets serious almost a year before the competition. In the fall, athletes who are interested in participating in the Provincial Games are asked to commit to training three times per week with a certificated coach. They also agree to a code of sportsmanship, which includes a commitment to trying their best and listening to their coach.
“I am proud of the accomplishments of our athletes, their hard work,” says Serge Michaud, the longtime executive director of Special Olympics Yukon – and Gaetan’s older brother. “Our athletes don’t get paid. They’re passionate about being fit, to show Yukoners what they can do.”
Sometimes, participants do win a medal. According to Gaetan, people go to have a good time, but often surprise themselves and perform even better than in training, winning a medal in the process.
Sherry Dube laughs when medals are mentioned. While it’s not the goal for her daughter, “A medal doesn’t hurt,” she says.
She encourages all people with intellectual disabilities or their caregivers to consider participating. There are a host of benefits to joining the Special Olympics, Dube says. “You will never be sorry.”