As host venue for the 2014 Games, UBC has a lot to gain from its partnership with Special Olympics Canada and vice-versa
From July 8-12, athletes with intellectual disabilities from across Canada will compete at UBC’s Vancouver campus for the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games. Louise Cowin, Vice-President, Students, describes how UBC staff, students and faculty are getting involved in the Games.
What did UBC hope to achieve by hosting the 2014 Games?
UBC is a tremendous venue for the Games because we have an inventory of superb sporting facilities. Nine of the 11 sporting events will be held on campus with golf and bowling taking place nearby.
What’s unique is the opportunity for the UBC community to engage in the Games and with Special Olympics Canada. From the very beginning, Special Olympics Canada was very keen to leverage the potential that we could offer as a university, not just a venue. A team of 25 employees have been involved in all aspects of planning and logistics. Hundreds of staff and students are volunteering, and for staff that means using their vacation time. Students have been engaged through their academic programs and have made contributions that will enhance the experience of visitors and athletes. Geography students created maps for the Games while Land and Food Systems students researched how to find local food and reduce waste. It’s been an opportunity for deeper engagement.
What will be the legacy of the partnership between the Special Olympics and UBC?
One legacy is to raise awareness about people with intellectual disabilities. Hosting the Special Olympics on campus is an opportunity to introduce our community to this population. Students on both campuses helped at training camps to prepare Special Olympics BC athletes for the Games. Others held health screening events for athletes. We’ve paid particular attention to connecting our varsity athletes with Special Olympics athletes. A number have been involved in training camps and other events, and I hope these partnerships continue.
One critical role has been that of Matt Dolf, a PhD student we hired to be the connector between the university and the Games. At the end of the Games, he will deliver a how-to manual for the next Games host. Matt had to start from scratch, but fortunately was able to build on the knowledge of many staff and other partners who were involved in the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
How will you be involved in the Games?
I have many duties during the Games including the medal ceremonies for the athletes. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to connect with the athletes in a more personal way and to connect with the joy of that moment. For athletes with intellectual disabilities, the focus of the Games is participation. But as a former athlete, I recognize that there are winners and losers and I understand the importance of standing on a podium. I look forward to reconnecting with that part of sport, and observing athletes’ pride and sense of accomplishment up close.
What can people learn from working on this event and meeting people with intellectual disabilities?
For those members of our community who do interact – whether by volunteering, coming out to watch the opening ceremony or the sports competition, or even reading about the Games – I hope that they will become further educated about people with intellectual disabilities. It’s an opportunity for us to pause, reflect and celebrate the athletes’ accomplishments.
There are many individuals at UBC whose lives will be enriched from the experience of working closely with Special Olympics athletes. The next question is what is the institution’s gain? After hosting this event, how will UBC have changed? This event could create greater awareness around building a diverse community and workforce on campus that includes opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
For more information on the Games, visit Vancouver2014.ubc.ca.