Sports are about more than just competition. For many people, they're a way to socialize and meet new friends while staying fit.
That's exactly what the Special Olympics offers to the hundreds of individuals living with intellectual disabilities across the province.
Gaye Reid is a volunteer and committee member with Special Olympics in Grand Falls-Windsor, and because to most of the athletes the social aspect of the programming is often even more important than the sport itself, she's been disappointed with the decrease in participation in Special Olympics over the past number of years. From last year alone, the group has shrunk from 22 to it's 18 current participants.
"We've been really trying to get the word out and get more athletes involved. I know there's more people out there in the region with intellectual disabilities," said Reid. "A lot of people think it's just sports, but really it's a lot of socialization and comradery. It's such a good little group and you don't have to be athletic to be involved, but you can still compete and feel good."
She said on top of socialization and being part of the team, it also gives the athletes the opportunity to stay fit, and challenge themselves physically and mentally in a safe and friendly environment.
Special Olympics athletes can choose from a number of sports to focus on depending on the season. In the winter, members of the group can either participate in snowshoeing, skiing, or floor hockey, and all year can participate in bowling and swimming, as well as additional sports in the summer months.
Although the winter and summer Special Olympics are something that happens every four years, the program itself offers year-round competition opportunities for athletes.
“A lot of people think it’s just sports, but really it’s a lot of socialization and comradery. It’s such a good little group and you don’t have to be athletic to be involved, but you can still compete and feel good.” - Gaye Reid
Right now, the Exploits branch of Special Olympics offers training for all the winter sports, plus a weekly bowling night.
The organization also provides a weekly strength training night for athletes.
"We also have social events, like we'll hold a Christmas party for them, and a closing party," said Reid. "We'll also hold invitationals throughout the year, in the past we've invited (other communities) in for bowling, which we're going to try and do again when the weather gets better for travel."
Reid said one of the big struggles facing the group is fundraising. While many opportunities exist for competition throughout the province, getting there is a financial obstacle, and Reid said the organization is always looking for new volunteers to join the fundraising committee.
"We always need help with that, because we're always fundraising, anytime we have to go away we have to rent a bus," she said, adding that just going to St. John's can cost upwards of $5,000 in transportation costs. Because the group has nowhere to store their sports equipment they have to rent a storage unit, which adds to the financial burden.
Melvin Hanhams has been a Special Olympian for eight years now, and he said he's noticed less participation over the years and would like to see that change.
"I like making new friends, I like the bowling, track and field, and floor hockey," he said. "I'd like more people to come and help, and more people to be on the teams."
Anyone interested in joining the Exploits Special Olympics team or the fundraising committee can contact the organization email@example.com.