It will be a week Glenn Benischek will forever remember.
The chairperson of the organizing committee for the Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games, which wrapped in Greater Vernon Saturday, was glowing Sunday.
“The week went off fantastically,” said Benischek. “It is a highlight of my life, something I’ll never forget. Just seeing the appreciation and having the athletes come up to me individually, sharing their experiences and how exciting this event was for them in their lives.”
More than 800 athletes, coaches and mission staff converged on the North Okanagan for the largest Winter Games in Special Olympics B.C. history.
Athletes competed in front of large crowds in five-pin bowling, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing and speed skating.
After earning their spots in the 2019 SOBC Games through Regional Qualifiers in 2018, the competitors from all over B.C. trained hard with the year-round Special Olympics programs in their hometowns to be able to pursue personal bests in Greater Vernon.
They delivered outstanding performances and were a shining example of the way Special Olympics athletes turn the spotlight on abilities and change the way the world sees people with intellectual disabilities. Approximately 1,220 medals were awarded to proud athletes whose smiles lit up the podiums.
At these Games, athletes were competing for the chance to advance to the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games in Thunder Bay. Those National Games will be the qualifier for the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Sweden.
Opening ceremonies were held at Kal Tire Place Thursday, complete with the lighting of the Games torch, made in Vernon at A1 Machine and Welding, which will be used at future Games.
“In the Opening Ceremony, I told the athletes to give it their all and inspire us, and they absolutely did. I declare Greater Vernon inspired,” said Benischek. “The response from this community was so incredible. So many volunteers and sponsors chose to get involved, and they brought such great energy and interest. Everyone I talked to was so positive.
“We’ve had lots of positive feedback, quotes that these were the best Games the athletes have come to. I’m very proud of the energy of our volunteers to make it happen. The athletes had a great time.”
More than 1,000 volunteers helped out making the Games flow smoothly in all aspects, from competition to awards, food, lodging and busing.
“The volunteers were magical,” said Benischek. “They helped everything come alive, just amazing.”
Volunteers, who were honoured with an appreciation breakfast Sunday, were also touched by the Games.
One wrote on her Facebook page: “What an amazing day up at Silver Star with the Special Olympians from B.C., Alberta and the Yukon. These athletes give their all and are the most appreciative people you ever want to meet. Rock stars each and every one of them!!! I thank you!”
A Victory Dance was held for athletes and coaches only Saturday at Kal Tire Place. There was no public closing ceremony.
Athletes were on the buses heading for their homes Sunday morning.
While the 2019 SOBC Games are now over, the year-round Special Olympics sport, youth, and health programs in Vernon and 55 communities around the province continue to change lives through the power and joy of sport. There are many opportunities to get involved with the inspiring and fun Special Olympics family; new members are always welcome to participate, volunteer, and donate.