Special Olympics coach Erica McCluney poses for a photo outside a May 2019 swim meet in Cranbrook alongside athletes Brogan Beliveau (left) and Connor Charlong. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

Special Olympics coach Erica McCluney poses for a photo outside a May 2019 swim meet in Cranbrook alongside athletes Brogan Beliveau (left) and Connor Charlong. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

Athletes, coaches, admin staff wanted across the Boundary, says Special Olympics BC

Special athletes are ready are rearing to go, but the organization needs volunteers to get back on track

Special Olympics BC (Special O) needs volunteers to re-launch sports programs based in Grand Forks, according to Melanie Hatt, Community Development Co-ordinator for the West and East Kootenays.

Like many volunteer organizations in B.C., Special O had to ramp down at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eighteen months later, the organization is hoping its coaches and board administrators will start to come back, Hatt said Friday, Oct. 22.

“We’re trying to regroup and regrow, because there are still athletes who want to participate,” she told The Gazette, inviting volunteers and special athletes from Christina Lake through the West Boundary.

There are no barriers to entry when it comes to ability or experience. Whether you want to coach, compete or just learn a sport, Hatt says you’re welcome to join.

Special-O already has swimming lanes booked at Grand Forks and District Rec’s Aquatic Centre, where head coach Erica McCluney is eager to get back into the water. Speaking to The Gazette Friday, Oct. 15, McCluney fondly recalled taking special athletes Brogan Beliveau and Connor Charlong to 2019 swim meets in Kelowna and Cranbrook.

(L-R) Special athletes Brogan Beliveau and Connor Charlong smile for coach Erica McCluney at an April 2019 swim meet in Kelowna. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

(L-R) Special athletes Brogan Beliveau and Connor Charlong smile for coach Erica McCluney at an April 2019 swim meet in Kelowna. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

“They were invited to a skills training camp and, fortunately, they got a chance to compete with other special athletes from around the Kootenays,” she said.

McCluney, who attended the University of Hawaii on a swimming scholarship, said she’d never formally coached before she signed on with Special O in 2018. She’d moved to Grand Forks a year earlier, when she said she was gently volun-told to join a community organization.

“What makes Grand Forks so great is that people are willing to commit,” she heard from her friend, Lorraine Dick. “The next time I see you, I wanna know what you signed up for,” Dick teased.

She didn’t wait long to follow through. Summing up her story in a few sentences, McCluney made it sound easy. “I saw on Facebook that Special O was looking for volunteers. They asked me if I could swim. I said, ‘yes,’ and the rest is history.”

Special athlete Noah Trainer (centre) and Kelly Soroka, Treasurer at Special Olympics BC, hold up a cheque presented by Andy Stefanelli, Grand Knight of the Grand Forks Knights of Columbus, in August 2019. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

Special athlete Noah Trainer (centre) and Kelly Soroka, Treasurer at Special Olympics BC, hold up a cheque presented by Andy Stefanelli, Grand Knight of the Grand Forks Knights of Columbus, in August 2019. Photo courtesy of Erica McCluney

Special-O is able to run local programs with the help of annual donors like the Grand Forks Knights of Columbus, whose Andy Stefanelli joined special athlete Noah Trainer and Special O Treasurer Kelly Soroka for a joyful cheque presentation in 2019.

“But without people to run our volunteer board, we’ve got no programs to offer,” McCluney said, adding that Special O is hoping to rebuild programs for floor hockey, snowboarding, snowshoeing, golf and bocce.

Anticipating Hatt’s point about inclusivity, McCluney pointed out that athletes don’t have to compete. There was a broad spectrum of ability on the pre-pandemic swim team, running from Beliveau and Charlong to other athletes who just wanted to swim laps. The same goes for volunteer coaches.

“If you can swim without drowning, you’re good to help coach,” she joked.

Hatt stressed that Special O takes athletes’ safety very seriously. All volunteers will be asked to provide a criminal background check before they come on. Next, Hatt said all volunteers and athletes need to be double-vaccinated against COVID-19. Head coaches must be 19 or older, but junior coaches are welcome after they turn 16.

For more information, call Hatt at 250-919-0757 or email her at mhatt@specialolympics.bc.ca.

Special O is hoping to have programs back up and running in Grand Forks before Christmas, pending volunteer availability. Volunteers and athletes are welcome to join at any time, year-round, Hatt said.


 

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