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Tigers unite with intellectually disabled youth

Sports are more than wins and losses. (Bryn Karcha photo)
Sports are more than wins and losses. (Bryn Karcha photo)

Rebecca Haworth knows the monumental gains humility can make. In a time when people tend to put themselves before others, it’s refreshing to hear a story of selflessness and kind-hearted dedication. This is one of them.

Haworth, captain of the women’s track and field team and co-president of the Dalhousie varsity council, is bringing those values to campus.

Last fall, she partnered with Special Olympics Canada to create Special Tigers Sports Day, a program that allows children with intellectual disabilities to play sports with Dal’s varsity athletes.

Haworth discovered the importance of the Special Olympics organization at an early age.

“My mother taught special education, so I grew up around kids with intellectual disabilities and I’ve always enjoyed working with them,” says the Waverley, N.S. native.

The program, which held its third event Feb. 2 at the Dalplex, saw over 50 varsity athletes engaging with the Special Olympians. According to Haworth, having fun is the name of the game.

“Special Tigers creates an opportunity for the kids to have fun while building on their social skills,” she says. “After the first event, one of the parents emailed us and said that her autistic son had done things that he had never done before in his life.

“It’s nice to hear that kids are trying new things just because we’re helping them out.”

Lisa Mackenzie, whose 13-year-old daughter Olivia was a first-time participant, could not praise the program enough.

“I think it’s fabulous,” says Mackenzie. “It’s amazing to have the Dal athletes and the Special Olympic participants come together and share this special experience.”

The sheer exuberance on the children’s faces was obvious, but it was equally matched by the enthusiasm of the Dal athletes savouring every moment of the hour-and-a-half-long event.

Maya Wold, a first-year women’s basketball member, echoed the sentiment.

“[The athletes] take away a lot from helping out with the Special Olympics community,” she says. “Special Tigers gives us an opportunity to volunteer for a great cause.”

Brittany Vey, fresh off a fun-fuelled game of volleyball, enjoyed the numerous activities offered to her, ranging from basketball to mini-sticks.

“I had a lot of fun,” she says. “[Haworth] is really great.”

The importance of Special Olympics in society is something Haworth is trying to emulate through this venture.

“Everyone who has participated in this program is able to see these kids as not having a disability, but understanding that they do things a little differently than we do,” she says.

The next Special Tigers event will be held Mar. 2 at the Dalplex.

At the end of the day, it was hard to tell who was looking forward to the next event more: the kids or the athletes. One thing is certain, however: everyone was a winner.

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