Back in 1996 I was introduced to a fantastic event started in Victoria and run by Victorians of all stripes.
The brain child of Judith Armstrong and others it is an event which started in 1971 to bring developmentally challenged people of all ages together once a year to participate in athletic events designed for all levels of ability.
The event is hosted by the University of Victoria and held at their facilities in Gordon Head.
It is sponsored in part by local businesses: a Credit Union, a local Grocery outlet, Service Clubs, local TV station and a local FM radio station, and a local pizza supply company to pack lunches for everyone on Saturday. Then there is Judith’s army of red hat officials to deal with emergencies from lost articles or competitors or even their misplaced belongings.
There are nurses to look after medications and apply sun cream, or to hand out ponchos when it rains. There is a an announcer to remind all when an event is taking place; a marching pipe band to open the event, and an orchestra on Sunday morning. There is an array of students from the University to man the equipment and swimming events, and to cook meals; and of course a local army of volunteers to look after the dormitories for the out of town athletes and more to act as councilors for both out of town and local athletes as needed and marshalls to organize the events. These range from early teens to old people such as I.
There are running races, high jump, long jumps, swimming and a multitude of activities involving sporty themes. There is room for old and young and for those in wheel chairs of various levels. There are clowns, stilt walkers, balloon creators, and face painting sometimes.
It is an event for those from all over BC who come year after year to re connect with their friends and have fun competing, laughing, catching up with each other and for boasting about the amount of multi coloured ribbons they have won at the events. On Saturday nights there is a dance for the athletes which unfortunately I was never able to attend.
At the close of the event at about noon on Sunday there are trophies to be handed out to competitors and teams for best this or that and of course the singing of “In his Hands” followed by the last lunch, when the last intermingling is done before ferries have to be caught, or buses boarded for up island.
I was invited by a friend, who was involved with Garth Homer center here in Victoria, to come along and help. In doing so he gave me a gift I will always cherish. I had had little exposure to the such amazing humans and was almost immediately taken with the concept and the spirit of the competitors. They were and are humans just like me but with differing abilities yet with a huge appetite for living and competing and a seemingly complete lack of feeling sorry for themselves. Such a lesson.
For 25 years I have been a day councilor most often working both Friday and Saturday nights at my job as well but it has been a highlight of my year, showing me that friendly but genuine love, friendship and competition is alive and well everywhere. It has been exhausting yet exhilarating for me to take part.
Then in 2020 it all changed as large crowds were not encouraged, and again in 2021 it had to be cancelled. I can only imagine the disappointment of the participants when they could not make the journey to Victoria again, that they would not meet their friends from across the province. I know it affected me specially as my days as a day councilor were coming to an end. If and when the event starts again, I will find a way to be there, maybe sit at a table handing out ribbons and seeing the look of pleasure and accomplishment on the faces of the competitors. However, I am not holding my breath as I see what our politicians and health officers are doing.
Life goes on, but I sure miss my annual fix with some of the greatest humans on earth.