Special Olympics Alberta is focusing its efforts on restarting its grassroots programs across the province, including those in the Bow Valley, and has opted to delayed its provincial games until 2023.
This week, they announced the cancellation of its 2021 Summer Games in Strathcona County and have instead awarded the county the 2023 Winter Games.
"Right now the priority for the foreseeable future is going to be on working with our local programs across the province to get our weekly programs up and running," says Johnny Byrnes, chief executive officer of Special Olympics Alberta. "That's where the majority of our impact is made is at the community level with our day-to-day programs."
Among those are initiatives of its Bow Valley chapter as well as unified school programs.
"We've had some Cochrane athletes involved in our organization for a very long time, and we've recently started a community-based program there for the Bow Valley region that has been able to provide some more focused programs for our athletes in that area there. We've also got some great school representation there as part of our unified programs."
Byrnes says it will be done in a staged approached and they hope to resume some of their grassroots programs in the fall. He expects the reintroduction will continue into 2021.
"We're working with each of our affiliates and community programs to determine what will be safe for them to get started."
"It's not going to be like flicking a switch because we have 18 different sports as well as youth programs that we run."
Byrnes says they don't mind being criticized for being cautious.
"We want to be in the position where were into 2021 and we're being criticized for being too conservative versus being the opposite of rushing to get back because we know it's something that our athletes miss and our volunteers miss and it's something that's very important to their physical and mental well-being but we also understand that COVID is still in our community, so we definitely have to weight the risks."
Special Olympics Alberta is dedicated to enriching the lives of Albertans with intellectual disabilities through the transformative power and joy of sport.
Their programs cater to all ages and a wide range of abilities to over 3,300 athletes from 140 communities. They offer 18 different sports as well as youth programming.
Its summer and winter games regularly bring together almost 1,500 athletes and volunteers.
Athletes from the Bow Valley region regularly participate in both the summer and winter games here in Alberta and some have gone on to represent Alberta and Canada at national and international competitions.