ANTIGONISH, N.S. - When Mark Tewksbury met her four years ago, she was extremely shy.
He remembered the Special Olympics’ athlete barely interacted with her coach.
So much has changed.
During a VIP gathering Tuesday evening, prior to the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games on the St. F.X. campus in Antigonish, one of those signature smiles crossed his face as he reflected on meeting her earlier that day.
She ran to him, provided a bear hug and filled him in on what was happening with her.
“It truly changes peoples’ lives,” the Special Olympics Canada chair and president said of the movement, which is celebrating its golden anniversary.
Tewksbury noted Special Olympics has that effect on more than 45,000 athletes across the country “365 days a year, and from coast to coast to coast.”
“They delight in each other’s accomplishments,” he said of the incredible athletes – more than 1,000 of which will compete this week.
Even with those successes, there is room to grow. Tewksbury said there “only a small percentage” of people who could benefit from it are gaining access to the Special Olympics’ experience.
“It is truly transformative,” he added, reiterating what the movement has and can accomplish.
Tewksbury challenged people to share their enjoyment of the Games’ experience.
“We are the ones who benefit,” he said of what the athletes and their successes provide.
Another highlight of the reception came when Central Nova MP Sean Fraser acknowledged the effort of Dr. Frank Hayden - one of the pioneers of Special Olympics in Canada, which drew a rousing ovation.
“It is an absolute joy,” St. F.X. president Kent MacDonald said of the university’s opportunity to be part of the Games.
He added it was now time for “the light to shine on our athletes.”
It did just that a short time later at the Keating Centre on the Antigonish campus during the opening ceremony for the Games, which included the parade of teams and the lighting of the Special Olympics Cauldron with The Flame of Hope.
Competition in eights sports, including athletics, bocce, basketball, golf, powerlifting, soccer, softball and swimming get underway early Wednesday morning, with rhythmic gymnastics starting on Friday.
The Games wrap up Saturday.