This June 17 -25, the Special Olympics World Games are taking place in Berlin, Germany with thousands of athletes competing together in 26 sports. So, just what is the Special Olympics?
“Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Those activities give them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”
Wayne Gowanlock has been an athlete with Special Olympics Elk Valley since 1996 and is one of 125 Canadian athletes heading to Berlin, competing in Bocce.
“We’re a four-person team, there is one out of Calgary, Winnipeg, Ontario and me. We met when we were in Toronto in November,” Wayne tells me. This was a Team Canada Event where athletes had the opportunity to meet one another and learn what they will be doing as a delegation. There is another one this April in Vancouver, where athletes will learn basic phrases in German, French and Sign Language to help them during their travels abroad this June.
Wayne has been living in Fernie since 1990. He was born in Ontario, and his family moved to Vancouver Island where his dad worked at a sawmill in Honeymoon Bay. Wayne attended an AGM for Community Living, and met Janet, his future wife. They decided to move together to Fernie. Wayne has had various jobs in town, including being a janitor at the ski hill and working at various restaurants, but most of us recognize Wayne through his work with the City of Fernie.
“It’s my favourite job,” he tells me, which comes to no surprise as he recently received a 25-year long service award. “I like talking to the guys when I go in the morning. This summer, Adam will be starting from the Arena, and I’ll be working from the City Yards as am doing Second Avenue which I like best.” Adam and Wayne alternate locations annually, picking up garbage, recycling and as Wayne shares, often finding treasures people have left behind.
Outside of work, Wayne has a training program that is created by Team Canada and implemented by his local coach, Georgina MacIntosh. “I make sure that all of Team Canada’s requirements are completed,” she tells me, and this includes going to the gym, practicing bocce, maintaining nutrition, mental training, and additional physical activity.
Part of the requirement is that the athletes participate in all sports. “Swimming is my least favourite. I never really liked it when I was small,” Wayne says. He really enjoys golf, bocce and bowling but unfortunately with nowhere to practice, Special Olympics Elk Valley can no longer offer it.
What Wayne loves most about participating in Special Olympics Elk Valley is the opportunity to travel. “Ontario was the funnest place I have been. We’ve also been to Vernon and Prince George,” he tells me. He also enjoys the weekly programming with the other Elk Valley athletes, 13 in total.
“A typical week is Bocce at the Elks Hall on Mondays, gym with a trainer at Body Garage on Tuesdays, swimming on Fridays, as well as at home exercise throughout,” Georgina adds. “It will be interesting to see how golf goes with this extra training,” she says to Wayne. No doubt! Wayne has me feeling like I should add some cross training before the bike season.
Sitting with Georgina and Wayne at Freshies, alongside Lu Furber who is the Special Olympics BC Secretary and Coach, the connection and appreciation they have for one another is obvious. Georgina has been Wayne’s coach for twenty years. And this year, Special Olympics Elk Valley is celebrating 25 years! With COVID, there was a bit of a pause with programming but they are seeing a resurgence and a need in our community.
“After the lull during COVID, there is a revival with younger athletes and families involved and we’re trying to figure out how to support them. We want to get a group of coordinators to increase the roles of volunteers and coaches,” Lu says to me.
When it comes to Wayne, he has every intention of continuing to pursue his passions through Special Olympics Elk Valley.
“There is no age limit, and I also do snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter time. This summer, I’m excited to just go out golfing, and continue our practicing.”
For more information or to get involved, call 250-423-4826, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook @SpecialOlympicsBCElkValley. To follow along Wayne’s journey this June, visit Berlin2023.org.
1. When did you first arrive in Elk Valley and what brought you here?
1990, and it was my future wife.
2. Who did you first meet?
I met Darren at the life skills program, I was going there with Janet.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
I liked it, it was good to see the white stuff in the winter time. Being on Vancouver Island, green Christmas was getting boring.
4. What keeps you here?
My work and helping Darren when he is sad sometimes. Gotta make him laugh.
5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
Try to do snowshoeing when I get the chance in winter, by myself.
6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
Christmas time! I get to go outside snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and I get to open Christmas presents.
7. Where do you see or hope to see the Elk Valley in five years.
The same, with some nice trees planted.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
The first thing I do is get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee. Then, I have breakfast. Then I look after my neighbour’s dog for a while. Help her out.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
I can make people laugh. When Darren and I went to a bowling tournament, I almost had him in tears as I had to get him laughing.
10. Quote to live by: Just do it.