|... "Dorintosh ~ 'Where the Prairie Meets the Pine' ...|
When we went last year, I didn't know what to expect. I'd always hated track as a child and didn't know if we'd have fun or not! And how could people struggling with disabilities compete? My skepticism, however, was soon gone and after experiencing the inclusive atmosphere at the Dorintosh, "I CAN" Games once, I knew we had to go back again, if at all possible.
And so I found myself headed back to Dorintosh for the 12th Annual "I CAN" Games. This inspirational event, almost didn't happen for 2011, due to the current teacher's strike. When volunteer services were withdrawn in late May, the games were postponed, much to the disappointment of many. Luckily, with the appointment of a mediator in the dispute, the "I CAN" Games were once again scheduled, with many students, parents, volunteers and school staff looking forward to attending.
When we walked into the Dorintosh Community Hall, it all seemed familiar. We looked for the sign, taped to the wall, that said, "NEILBURG," and stood underneath it. Surveying the gymnasium, we scanned the crowd and saw some familiar faces -- people that had participated last year, too. There were children with leg braces, a girl with neon pink tape wrapped around her crutches, many individuals in wheelchairs, people that looked "different" and others like Alisdair that struggle with disabilities but outwardly appear normal. (He has "dyspraxia" which simply means he has difficulty with tasks requiring certain kinds of fine/gross motor skills - for instance, the hand/eye coordination required to throw a ball or the balance to ride a bicycle.)
Soon it was time to start and the athletes took their signs and went out of the hall. The piano began playing and Mr. MacCormack, the Principal of Dorintosh Central School, began announcing the various schools that were participating. He called out names like the "Flying Dust Reserve", "Marsden", and "J. H. Moore High School."
When the principal called out "Neilburg School," Alisdair marched into the gymnasium holding the bristol board sign we had made that said "Neilburg Homeschoolers" in colourful metallic lettering. Underneath was his photo and his name written in glitter glue.
|... Our sign ...|
Then it was time for "O Canada." I started to sing the national anthem but then my voice broke, and tears began to spill down my cheeks. Finally I was able to join in once more.
Carolyn Forsey, the Superintendent of Student Services for the Northwest School Division, asked all the athletes and their teachers or aides, to form a circle in the center of the gym. She then retold the story of "The Little Engine Who Could" and got everyone to repeat the phrase, "I CAN," three times.
Then Kier Barker was introduced. Barker is an inspirational speaker from Ontario, who happened to be in the area, and shared a little of his own story. Born with spina bifida, his parents were told they would never take their son home from the hospital. "But I'm here," Kier exclaimed, as he limped up and down the gym, leaning on his black cane.
|... Kier Barker and Alisdair ...|
He told those gathered at the "I CAN" games to remember these things:
"Dreams are possible."
"Create your own plan."
"What you think about matters."
"Words hurt -- What words do you use when you talk to yourself?"
"Never give up."
Soon it was time to break up into groups and to head outside where various events had been set up. Alisdair was assigned to "Amanda's Awesome" team. Amanda is the Occupational Therapist who comes to Neilburg on an occasional basis and so she knew both Alisdair and Isobel. Even though Isobel wasn't pre-registered (and doesn't have any disabilities), she was allowed to fully participate in all the activities -- making it a wonderful day for her, as we cheered her big brother on.
Participants were not competing against each other to be the "top" athlete -- rather each was out on the field simply to have fun and to try to do the best they could. For example, in one activity, a girl did not want to kick the soccer ball. So, instead of getting upset with her lack of cooperation, the organizers encouraged her to throw the ball into the net! It worked ... and she decided to do that! After each event, the participants were able to choose what colour of ribbon they wanted to pin onto their t-shirts.
For "Non-Wheelchair Athletes" like Alisdair, there were activities like the obstacle course; running in between pylons; a beanbag shuttle run; a rubber boot toss; a duck hunt (shooting rubber ducks with a garden hose); a newspaper toss; toilet paper roll toss; and many other "fun" events.
|... The Duck Hunt ...|
|... Beanbag Shuttle Run. ...|
(Also pictured is a participant
who has received a heart transplant
and another who uses braces. Amanda
is the lady on the far right.)
|... Rubber Boot Toss ...|
Before we knew it, we were back outside for the final hour of the "I CAN" Games. The group were able to squeeze in another three events before heading back indoors for the "closing ceremony" and ice cream cups "for the road." Many individuals were thanked for the role they played in making the "I CAN" Games possible -- people like the volunteers from the Dorintosh Lions Club and the dedicated ladies in the kitchen, behind the scenes, who prepared the food.
It was almost 2:30 PM as we headed out to our stifling hot car and began driving home, arriving in Neilburg at 5:40 PM -- just in time to deliver our newspapers and for soccer practise. We were hot and tired but we were glad we'd been able to participate in the 12th Annual "I CAN" Games in Dorintosh.
According to an archived article from "The Meadow Lake Progress," the concept of the "I CAN" Games began back in 1999, when the then principal of "Dorintosh school, John Carr and teacher Brenda Neufeld, came up with the idea to hold a special organized track and field event to accommodate children with mental and physical challenges."
"They visualized games that would be open to children in the Meadow Lake School district, ranging from Kindergarten to grade 12."
"Carr and Neufeld planned the events to meet the needs of numerous degrees of developmental challenges, ranging from autism, to fetal alcoholism, to Downs Syndrome."
Since it's inception, the good people of Dorintosh have put the "I CAN" Games on for a total of twelve years. They are to be commended for their efforts, and for the difference this event brings to the lives of each athlete and their parents.
"Can we go to that place, again, Mum?," Isobel asked me this morning. I tried to explain to her that the "I CAN" Games are only held once a year. It's going to be a long wait . . .
Watch for an additional post with more photographs from our day at the "I CAN" Games.