Jun 1, 2018
On Saturday, May 26, 2018, the Durham Shooting Stars, a rhythmic gymnastics (RG) club operating under the Greater Durham chapter of Special Olympics Ontario (SOO), hosted a Rhythmic Gymnastics Invitational meet in Ajax, Ont.
To a casual observer, it might have looked like any other rhythmic gymnastics competition, with athletes in glittering costumes showcasing their strength, balance, coordination and fitness in floor routines choreographed and performed to music. But as captivating as the performances were, the event was about more than just artistry and athleticism: it was about empowerment, respect, acceptance and dignity.
It was also the first time the Durham Shooting Stars were able to host a competition on their brand new, FIG (Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique)-certified RG carpet, purchased with the support of the Gay Lea Foundation, the official registered charity of Gay Lea Foods.
“The mission of Special Olympics Ontario is to enrich the lives of Ontarians with intellectual disabilities through sport,” said Donna Edwards, Manager of the Durham Shooting Stars and the event’s coordinator. “This event, and others like it, go a long way to improve the quality of life and wellbeing for our athletes, and we couldn’t do it without the support of our volunteers and generous donors like Gay Lea Foods.”
Purchased through a $21,000 grant from the Gay Lea Foundation, the Durham Shooting Stars’ new regulation-sized RG carpet is allowing team members to practice in a safe environment and, going forward, will provide increased opportunities for competitions like the one hosted in Ajax. As many of Special Olympics Ontario’s rhythmic clubs do not practice in a RG club, or have access to a RG carpet, the carpet will also be loaned to other clubs (at a minimal cost to cover expenses associated with transportation and cleaning), increasing the number of programs available to athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The carpet will be housed at Bolton C. Falby public school in Ajax, in the Durham Shooting Stars practice room.
“The Gay Lea Foundation and the members, and employees of Gay Lea Foods are incredibly proud to support Special Olympics Ontario and the Durham Shooting Stars,” said Gay Lea Foundation Chair, Rachel Caldara. “This is not only an organization of fantastic and dedicated volunteers, it is an organization of talented and passionate athletes who have inspired us all through their fearlessness and tangible love of the sport.”
Caldara attended the opening ceremony of the invitational meet on May 26, along with Edwards, fellow Foundation Director, Robin Redstone and Greater Durham – Special Olympics Ontario Treasurer, Tanya Nadeau. Gay Lea Foundation and co-operative Director Jennifer Woodhouse shared the honour of presenting athlete awards with Edwards at event’s closing ceremony.
“The joy on the faces of these athletes is clear and serves as a testament to the efforts of the parents, coaches, and organizers of this event, as well as Special Olympics Ontario itself,” said Woodhouse.
Similar to other sports organizations, Special Olympics competitions are structured to provide opportunities for increasingly challenging competitions. As part of the partnership with Gay Lea Foods, the dairy co-operative’s President & CEO, Michael Barrett, was invited to speak to the SOO Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Ontario the day after the invitational competition in Ajax.
“I was invited by the team’s manager to speak to these athletes about leadership, but the truth is, they inspire me,” said Barrett. “Their courage is helping to break down barriers and open hearts, and minds, towards people with intellectual disabilities.”
The 15-members of SOO’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Team Ontario will compete at the Special Olympics Canada Summer Games July 31-Aug 4 in Antigonish, NS.
Photo courtesy of Snapd Ajax.
About Special Olympics Ontario and the Durham Shooting Stars
Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Ontarians with intellectual disabilities by providing both recreation and competitive sports programs. It has become the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities through sport.
Durham Shooting Stars is a Rhythmic Gymnastics Clubs operating under Greater Durham – Special Olympics, a community chapter of SOO that provides sport, recreation and social activities within Durham Region to people of all ages with intellectual disabilities. The Greater Durham – Special Olympics community has over 350 athletes and over 100 volunteers. All programs and events run by the Greater Durham-SOO are provided through local fundraising, with athlete programs and social events run at minimal or no cost to participants.
About the Gay Lea Foundation
The Gay Lea Foundation is the official registered charity and collaborative forum for Gay Lea Foods and its members, directors and employees to support families and communities in need. Since receiving charitable status in 2014, the Foundation has provided more than $685,000 in funding support for education, poverty relief and community well-being projects in Canada and around the world. The primary source of funding for the Foundation is an annual $150,000 contribution from Gay Lea Foods, which is supplemented by personal contributions from across the Gay Lea Foods family. Funding applications are assessed twice a year by the Foundation’s Board of Directors, which is comprised of Gay Lea Foods Directors, delegates, dairy producer members and employees.
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