Some 400 athletes with developmental disabilities delivered lessons in spirit and sportsmanship during the 49th edition of Operation Trackshoes held June 7-9 at the University of Victoria (UVic).
This aspect of the event became Sunday morning as the competitors participated in hurdle races of varying distances on the running track of Centennial Stadium.
As they raced down the straightaway in front of the stadium’s main stand, they received cheers from other waiting competitors and audience members consisting of volunteers, friends, and family. They, in turn, fed off this encouragement by racing with obvious enthusiasm and energy, even if they did not streak across the specially designed hurdles, as one might expect. Some carefully stepped, others jumped, while a good number walked across the hurdles. But all of them persevered in their own way, and perhaps the biggest applause went to those who crossed the finish line in their own time.
Once across the line, volunteers greeted them with high-fives, hugs, and ribbons.
Sandra Otway, public relations coordinator for Operation Trackshoes, said the event gives people with development disabilities aged six to 80 from across the province a chance to participate in festivities in which they would otherwise not have a chance to participate.
“So it gives them a chance to interact with people with which they normally don’t have a chance to meet with, the chance to get away from their home or their environment for a weekend, and a chance to have a really great time and just meet new people.”
This bridging also cuts the other way, as the athletes receive support from volunteer counsellors, who serve the athletes in much the same way as summer camp counsellors would, said Otway. “They are there to help them on the weekend, encourage them, be with them, build a friendship, and get them to the event sometimes,” she said.
These volunteer counsellors come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and through their participation following an extensive orientation, they gain new skills and opportunities to try out new things, which they otherwise would not have, said Otway.
The event itself opened with a meet-and-greet during which the competitors and their counsellors met each other, followed by a social event. Following opening ceremonies Saturday morning, various events including ball throw, high jump, boccie ball, and 50-metre races, among others, ran until 3 p.m. Banquets and dances for different age groups then concluded the day. Sunday saw even more events, including hurdles, wagon races and the popular 1,500-metre racem, wrapping with a short closing ceremony. The weekend took an entire year to plan and organize.
This organizational detail also means that organizers are now shifting their attention to next year, when Operation Trackshoes will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
To ensure its success, organizers are already appealing for volunteers.
“Every single year, we are short of volunteers,” said Otway. “The number of competitors who can attend Operation Trackshoes depends on how many volunteers actually sign up. So without enough volunteers, that means some competitors can’t come. So we need people to volunteer to help support our competitors.”