COCHRANE— Special Olympics Alberta has announced a return to play in the province for the athletes under its umbrella.
Here in Cochrane and the Bow Valley, the return to play includes bowling and cross-country skiing, with plans to expand in the future into other areas of athletics, said Shawn Jesse, the Bow Valley affiliate and coach with Special Olympics Alberta.
“Special Olympics Alberta has come out with a plan to return us to competing and training, and we’re just in the process of implementing that,” Jesse said.
A large part of the process, Jesse said, is working with the facilities where the activities take place to ensure that their COVID-19 protocols align with Special Olympics Alberta’s.
The coaches and volunteers also have a lot of online training to get through as well with regards to COVID-19 protocols, he said.
“It’s heady enough at the best of times with things to do to get rolling for the season, but with COVID there certainly is a lot of requirements.”
Special Olympics Alberta’s Bow Valley chapter is in its third year of operations, and is still building, Jesse said.
Right now the program has 12 athletes enrolled in bowling, four in the athletics program and another seven or eight attending the cross-country skiing program.
Across the country, Special Olympics Canada reaches 49,600 athletes.
“We are looking to grow those programs, and there are 18 different sports that can be done in Special Olympics, and we would like to branch out into whatever there’s an interest to do in Cochrane and Canmore,” Jesse said.
These programs are very important for the families and individuals that take part in them.
“This is kind of huge socially for many of our athletes,” he said. “There’s a wide range of athletes. There are a lot of athletes that it’s the social aspects that they really come out for, but we also have some really highly competitive athletes. Yes, they get a lot out of the socialization, but they’re there to compete. We have athletes at basically all levels.”
The staff and volunteers of Special Olympics offer much more than athletics training, they offer support at various levels.
“We’re not there just to support the athletes in training specific to their sport, it’s everything,” Jesse said. “It’s lifestyle choices, it’s what they do outside of the sessions that we have, diet, exercise, all those sorts of things.”
In lieu of the usual programming offered by Special Olympics Alberta, the organization has offered a stand-in program for those in quarantine called Healthy at Home.
Healthy at Home is a continuation of the support offered by the organization.
The program includes weekly wellness checks, events, exercises, recipes, COVID-19 information resources and links to help athletes connect with coaches and peers.
“Most of our programs include a healthy athlete component, everything from nutrition and lifestyle choices,” he said. “It’s great in terms of lifestyle and fitness. It was really Special Olympics' way of trying to do what they could.”