2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games
Honourable senators, I will be speaking about autism tomorrow. There’s an autism summit going on in Ottawa, and I hope honourable senators can come tonight to room 160-S where we have a reception planned after the deferred vote tonight between five and seven.
Some break weeks are better than other break weeks, and I found that out during the Special Olympic World Winter Games in Austria from March 16 to 23. Imagine 3,000 athletes from 105 countries, and as soon as it was time to say goodbye, as we left the historic city of Graz in Austria, the drive through the rolling countryside was filled with memories of an emotional week with new friends, Special Olympic athletes from all around the world.
What a week to remember. These were games where athletes with intellectual disabilities demonstrated the ability to win, the ability to care and the ability to love; and of course Team Canada was front and centre, winning gold, silver and bronze.
But at Special Olympics, it doesn’t matter whether you finish first, last or anywhere in between because, as they say in this sport movement, it’s about winning at life. It didn’t matter to anyone that the spectacular opening ceremonies in the picturesque town of Schladming were drenched with rain. You only had to feel the energy in the stadium to know that it was the place to be.
It is hard to describe the emotion of watching Team Canada, led by Olympic gold medallist and world figure skating champion Jamie Salé, enter the open air stadium. I felt so much pride and excitement for our athletes, who had spent years preparing to compete on the world stage.
Our Special Olympics athletes were from all across the country. Being in their presence was a reminder of what an inclusive Canada looks like. From hugs to fist pumps, it was a time to share in the pure joy of winning and sometimes in the sorrow of losing, but nobody really loses at Special Olympics.
Everywhere you looked, there were Canadian flags and supportive families, and it’s the families who are at the core of this movement. It is their belief in the athletes that connects us all. We can cheer, the federal government and corporate sponsors can support, but it is the Special Olympics family where it all begins.
Whether it was watching Peter Snider from Waterloo, Ontario, blasting across the finish line in snowshoeing, or Véronique Leblanc from Moncton, New Brunswick, in speed skating, it was clear that these games were about sport, about competition and, most important, about inspiration.
For one week in Austria, the sporting world took notice of 3,000 athletes who competed for the love of sport and for the love of each other. We can all learn from Special Olympic athletes what humanity should look like. We can learn about gratitude — about being grateful for participating in society just like anyone else — and about when a hug means everything or when sharing a moment is the only thing that matters. I shared in many moments in Austria, and I will always remember the tears flowing as I handed out medals in the main square. In that instant I thought, “This is what inclusion looks like.”
In Special Olympics there is an oath: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
That is a lesson for all of us. Thank you.