‘Cheer For A Year’ as spring games draw near
Jon Maillet For the Journal
Special Olympics Sarnia has brought back its ‘Cheer for A Year’ raffle fundraiser, ahead of the new year and the upcoming Special Olympics Ontario 2024 Spring Games.
“We are super excited to have five athletes qualify for spring provincials this coming year in 2024,” Special Olympics Sarnia Community Coordinator Tana Manchester said of the Games to be held May 23-26, 2024 in the Waterloo Region. “This will the first time Special Olympics Sarnia — since we formed in 2017 — will be sending any athletes to provincials.”
Noah Pyke and Angela Sauve will represent Sarnia in 10-pin bowling, while Calum MacDonald of the Sarnia Dolphins qualified for swimming, and Sara Yates and Dan Robar will compete in power lifting.
The organization did have athletes qualify in 2020, however, those games were canceled due to the pandemic. Everyone is excited to finally be able to attend the games, says Manchester.
“Just to see all of the hard work they put in, and to see them be able to attend these games is very exciting for everybody; we are super proud of them.”
The Cheer for a Year raffle, running now until the draw on Dec. 27, offers more than $2,000 in gift cards from the Imperial City Brew House, Point Brewing Co., and LCBO.
The fundraiser, Manchester says, helps keep things running, keep costs down for the athletes, and remove any barriers to participation.
“We do rely on doing fundraising and we are thankful for the support of many service clubs and organizations that do give us yearly donations to keep us running,” Manchester told the Journal. “To remove any barriers to participation, we do also cover costs of tournaments, and if we need to take a bus down, we cover that as well.”
While Special Olympics Ontario does help subsidize some of the cost, athletes are expected to cover a portion as well, something Manchester says they as a community council are committed to helping their athletes cover.
“We want to make sure they are able to go, so when they go to provincials this year… we’ll make sure that we cover those costs for them.”
Manchester, who formed Special Olympics Sarnia and describes working with the athletes as ‘pure joy,’ is thankful for the dedicated volunteers and support of community organizations that make it all possible.
“We’re always looking for supportive members in the community to help out; we've been lucky so far for all the support we’ve received.”
Organizations like the Sarnia Sting and 100 Women Who Care have been instrumental in the success of their programming, she said, adding that volunteers are the ones who keep it going.
“The main thing is that we have volunteers, so we need dedicated coaches that have experience in these different sports to coach. Without these coaches and volunteers, these programs wouldn’t happen.”
One of those volunteers, powerlifting coach Andrew Hadley, says his weekly practices help put things into perspective, if he’s had a bad week.
“For myself personally, it is the thing I look forward to most in my week,” he says. “You go into the gym and see these kids — who legitimately have the deck stacked against them — come in with the positive attitude, and you see how that attitude can really overcome anything, and I leave feeling ten pounds lighter.”
Hadley, who coaches Yates and Robar, says while he’s proud of his athletes, he takes zero credit — he is simply there to make sure they are safe and realize their own potential.
“Our biggest thing particularly with powerlifting is safety. You can hurt yourself if you're doing it wrong,” he expained. “Like Dan… he deadlifts almost 400 pounds, and that’s a ridiculous amount of weight; if you don’t lift that properly you can hurt yourself.”
Hadley is also appreciative of the community partners who donate and help with fundraising — including Ironworks Gym in Point Edward, where the club trains.
“Ironworks are huge for us — not just their staff, but also the members there,” Hadley explained. “They really have embraced our team there. My two — when I announced their qualification at the practice — they were beaming ear to ear. They got up running around high-fiving everyone.
“The community has been really great.”
For Hadley, Special Olympics Sarnia is more than just competition; it’s the joy of watching their athletes learn and grow over the years, and seeing the elation that comes with achieving their goals.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding to me as a coach and to watch some of these kids. I’ve been working with a lot of them since 2016,” he says. “To watch where they were then, and to see where they have grown to now, some of these kids came to us 1at 3-14 years old, and now they’re in their 20s; they’ve put on size and mass.”
“It’s such an awesome thing to see in the community — the negative stuff always gets so much press, it really is a good news story,” Hadley adds. “It’s awesome, and that's the message I want to get out the community. These are real athletes competing and competing at an exceptionally high level and people should come out and watch.”
Manchester echoes his sentiment.
“Being part of the Special Olympics, for me personally, is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of,” she says. “Just going to our regular community competitions, those days are so emotional just to see our athletes come together as team and work, or beat their personal best. It is very emotional and inspiring”.
For those interested in supporting Special Olympics Sarnia, check out their Facebook page or visit their website https://sarnia.specialolympicsontario.ca/home for more on how to volunteer or donate, as well as details on the Cheer For A Year fundraiser.