Special Olympics BC President and CEO Dan Howe
By Spencer van Vloten
For decades, Special Olympics BC has provided life-changing athletic and social experiences for persons with intellectual disabilities. Spencer van Vloten talked with Special Olympics BC President and CEO Dan Howe about the impact of the pandemic and how the organization has grown stronger in the process.
Spencer: Simply put: how’s it been going for Special Olympics BC?
Dan: Before the pandemic, there were 5200 people in our programs, we had 18 different sports running, we had fitness and health programs, and participants from ages 2 to 92.
But when the pandemic hit, we had to close all in-person programs, and we began to adapt and hold virtual programs, like Club Fit and social connection programs. Then the COVID numbers started to improve, and we gradually opened in-person programs for a small percentage of our athletes, with everyone else still participating online.
Now, just recently with the surge of cases, we’ve had to close in person programs again and go back to all virtual. But our virtual programs have grown, and we are offering coaching in specific elements of sports, for example floor hockey and basketball workshops where our athletes can continue to build their skills from home.
We will continue like this until we can roll out in-person programs in a safe, modified way.
Spencer: What have you heard from the athletes and families?
Dan: A couple of different messages stand out.
The 1st is how important the social aspect of sport is. The athletics are important, but the experience of getting together with each other at practices and events—of seeing your friends, meeting new ones, and building social skills—is even bigger, and that has been missing to some extent; online programs are great, but the social connection and activity is not the same.
At the same time, for certain individuals and caregivers, there are underlying health issues that make them more vulnerable to the virus, so they are understandably cautious and not as eager to get back into programs at the moment.
So it's important that even when our in-person activities resume, we still have options for people who aren't quite comfortable returning to them straight away.
The athletics are important, but the experience of getting together...is even bigger.
Spencer: Has the impact of the pandemic varied by region?
Dan: In the early days of the pandemic, some regions were largely unaffected, so activities could continue in those areas while they had to stop in others. But now with the cases having spread through province, and limitations on gatherings applied to all areas, things have evened out in terms of what areas can operate and what programs can be offered.
Across the province, regardless of region, there has been plenty of both apprehension and eagerness. We've worked together to develop strong protocols and safety measures that will make a return to sports as comfortable as possible for our athletes and families.
Spencer: What have you learned as a result of the pandemic?
Dan: As mentioned, seeing friends and coaches is so important for Special Olympians, and not everyone has access to internet