Dr. Frank Hayden with SOBC - Coquitlam athlete Mandy Manzardo at the 2010 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games.

Pioneers build the foundation of Special Olympics

The landscape of sport has been forever altered by the incredible work of two outstanding Canadians

For the past 50 years, the landscape of sport in Canada and around the world has been forever altered by the incredible work of two outstanding Canadians, Dr. Frank Hayden and Harry “Red” Foster.

Hayden is a pioneer of the Special Olympics movement, whose research was nothing short of ground-breaking. As a faculty member at the University of Toronto in the early 1960s, his study of children with intellectual disabilities revealed they were half as physically fit as their peers who did not have intellectual disabilities. It was assumed that their low fitness levels were directly connected to their disabilities. Hayden’s body of work challenged that mindset — one that claimed it was the disability itself that prevented children from fully participating in play and recreation.

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Through rigorous scientific study, Hayden proved that given the opportunity, people with intellectual disabilities could acquire the necessary skills to participate in sport and become physically fit. In other words: sport could have a transformative effect on the lives of those people with intellectual disabilities. Hayden’s initial research proved to be the springboard for Special Olympics which now operates in more than 170 countries around the world.

Harry “Red” Foster was an icon in Canadian broadcasting and a very successful businessman. Foster’s journey with Special Olympics began when his close friend, Dr. Hayden, came calling on Foster when he was looking for help to send athletes to Chicago for the first-ever Special Olympics Games in 1968.

Foster was more than happy to jump on board, using his connections to the National Hockey League to assist. With the help of Toronto Maple Leafs great George Armstrong and team owner Harold Ballard, Foster accompanied a floor hockey team to those first Games.

Upon returning to Toronto, he set about laying the foundation for Special Olympics Canada. The following summer — 1969, the first Canadian Special Olympics event was held in Toronto.

From that modest beginning, Special Olympics Canada quickly spread across the country and grew. His dedication to Special Olympics Canada was inspired by his mother’s devotion to his younger brother, who had an intellectual disability.

Foster began early in his career to devote much of his time, energy and wealth to addressing the problems faced by individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families. It was Foster’s hope that Special Olympics would become a permanent feature of a comprehensive sports and recreation program for Canadians with an intellectual disability. His dream took a giant leap forward when Canadian Special Olympics Inc. was formed in 1974, to further develop the programs.

The work of these two pioneers has lead Special Olympics Canada to grow today to more than 45,000 children, youth, and adults with an intellectual disability participating in year-round programs run across 12 provinces and territories. Special Olympics BC formed in 1980 and now provides weekly or daily opportunities to more than 5,000 athletes in 55 communities, supported by more than 3,900 trained, dedicated coaches and volunteers.

Now, 50 years after Hayden and Foster started their ground-breaking work, the dreams and efforts of these two pioneers will be celebrated in Greater Vernon.

From Feb. 21-23, 2019, Greater Vernon will build on their legacy and play host to the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games.

More than 800 volunteers from the Greater Vernon area will accept the challenge to change the way people see individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Get involved in something that will inspire you and positively impact your life. Volunteer or donate to the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games. Visit www.sobcgamesvernon.ca for information on how you can get involved or to learn more about the Games.

Two Canadian pioneers changed the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, and now you can carry on this legacy and enhance the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by supporting the 2019 Special Olympics BC Winter Games.

To report a typo, email: newstips@vernonmorningstar.com.


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Foster was awarded the Order of Canada in 1971 for his tireless work with Special Olympics Canada

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