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Grassroots support growing for Special Olympics

Last Updated Dec 16, 2019 at 5:50 pm MST

PHOTO. Tom and Breanna Albrecht speaking with athletes, parents, and coaches at the info session to discuss bringing Special Olympics back to Wood Buffalo on Dec. 5, 2019. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood

There is growing community interest in bringing Special Olympics back to Wood Buffalo.

After a five-year absence, community volunteers organized a pair of information sessions at the Unifor Building on Dec. 5 and Dec. 9, 2019.

Group organizer Kevin Garbuio is a coach and teacher in the Fort McMurray Catholic School District (FMCSD)

His association began when he started organizing a powerlifting team for athletes and young persons with special needs.

“I had a kid in my class, who took to weightlifting. We started looking up Special Olympics Weightlifting. The closest club was in Edmonton or Lloydminster; we couldn’t do that drive every week, so I said ‘let’s start a club here.”

Through social media, Garbuio found like-minded residents in Wood Buffalo interesting in starting a club.

Remarking about the high turnout for the meetings, Garbuio said he is excited about the future.

Tom Albrecht and his wife Breanna volunteered and helped raise funds for past Special Olympics in the U.S., Saskatchewan, and Calgary, Alta.

He joined the cause when his sister-in-law in Calgary directed them to Garbuio’s call on social media.

“We owe to the athletes to build something that is sustainable. One of the athletes said he wanted it to go on forever; that’s the golden rule.”

Albrecht met Garbuio in late November, and soon they met Nicole Spring.

Nicole Spring, Community Ambassador for the Autism Society, said residents would often ask her about Special Olympics.

She said there’s a great need for a program for young adults.

“There’s a huge gap or our older teens and adults to have opportunities to be part of their community, especially in the winter. If you have mobility issues, you’re not leaving your house very often, and everyone deserves to be included in their community.”

All three community leaders said they found great encouragement from the outpouring of support and interest.

Dozens of parents, coaches, potential volunteers and as many as ten athletes attended both meetings.

Spring said their first priority is to get a community program online.

“Hopefully, we will have the bodies to do that. It comes down to organizing: New coaches coming online, the second sport, and the third sport.”

More than 70 volunteers registered by the end of the meetings.

Bowling program

Attendees decided a bowling program for adult and young athletes will begin in the new year.

The powerlifting club Garbuio started at the Father Mercredi High School shall continue.

Albrecht said the athletes wholeheartedly support the programs, especially bowling.

The return of bowling alleys to Wood Buffalo help to rejuvenate interest in the program among athletes.

However, they prefer bowling and powerlifting programs to start slow.

“We are sure to build an organization that is sustainable and has the capacity to deliver world-class programs expected of Special Olympics.”

Albrecht said they scheduled their first AGM on Jan. 16, 2020, at 7 p.m. in the UNIFOR building.

Leading the meeting is Rochelle Chamczuk, Community and Volunteer Coordinator with Special Olympics Alberta.

Attendees shall also elect a local Board of Directors.

In the meantime, Albrecht said they have a small group of “do-ers” getting preparations underway.

To volunteer or register as an athlete, sign up on Special Olympics’ website.