March 3rd, 2024

Calgary set to host Special Olympics Games, Canadians can support by buying doughnut

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on February 1, 2024.

Figure Skater Nicole Vespa competes in this undated handout photo. Vespa has been practising three times per week to prepare for the figure skating competition at the 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Calgary. The 25-year-old from Hamilton has also participated in swimming, golf and rhythmic gymnastics with Special Olympics Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Special Olympics Canada *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Darby Taylor was on a road trip with his family from Calgary to Disneyland when he learned that he would be an ambassador for the upcoming Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in his hometown.

The 29-year-old Taylor was so happy that he declared he no longer needed to go to Disneyland.

“It felt amazing,” said Taylor, who has wanted to be a Special Olympics ambassador since he learned 10 years ago that the American version of the athletic program for intellectually disabled people had the role.

Calgary will host the Special Olympics Canada Winter Games from Feb. 27 to March 2, with eight sports being contested. Taylor has competed in Special Olympics for almost 17 years and hoped to play in his second national games in floor hockey, but his team lost a draw to be in these Winter Games.

Getting to be an ambassador welcoming more than 4,000 athletes, coaches, and other volunteers to Calgary, however, helps ease that disappointment because he considers it a “dream come true.”

Taylor recommends several spots for people visiting Calgary for the first time.

“For me, I think probably the Calgary Tower and our mountains, of course,” he said of must-see sites. “And also to see all of Calgary, if they can, because Calgary is a lovely city and I love it very much.”

Nicole Vespa has been practising three times per week to prepare for the figure skating competition. The 25-year-old from Hamilton has also participated in swimming, golf and rhythmic gymnastics with Special Olympics Canada.

“It’s given me confidence,” said Vespa.

The impact Special Olympics Canada has had on both families is immeasurable. Darby’s mom Sue said the program has been transformative.

“I don’t know what Darby would have done once he finished high school but Special Olympics has just given him an infinite number of opportunities,” she said. “Events, friends, it really is life changing.”

Nicole’s father Paul added it’s benefited him and his wife too.

“I don’t think without Special Olympics that Nicole would be so active,” he said. “And then the friends that we have made all over the country, just competing all over nationally.

“We’ve gone to St. Albert, we’ve gone to Corner Brook, and we’ve made a lot of friends and we stay in contact with them.”

Special Olympics Canada is looking for over 1,200 volunteers to assist with the Winter Games in Calgary, with applications available online. Coaches and other volunteers are also welcome year-round across the country.

Erin Ambrose, a defender with the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s team in Montreal, is an advocate for Special Olympics Canada and hopes to see more people get involved with the organization.

“It’s just about being aware of what these athletes are doing,” said Ambrose. “Just getting that exposure and knowledge out there, I think is very important.

“We’re sending over 800 athletes to these Games and I think it shows that no matter what you have an opportunity to be involved in sport.”

People across Canada can also contribute by buying a Special Olympics doughnut at Tim Hortons from Friday through Sunday. The coffee shop chain said that 100 per cent of the proceeds of the doughnut sales will be donated to Special Olympics Canada.

The Special Olympics Donut is a chocolate cake ring doughnut with white fondant, coloured sprinkles and whipped topping.

“I can only have one, because I’m training,” said Nicole Vespa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.

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