SYDNEY, N.S. – She’s no stranger to the provincial podium.
But on Saturday, Kellan Deruelle wasn’t focused on winning medals.
“It’s about getting to know everyone really well and having fun,” said the 20-year-old Special Olympics athlete from New Waterford.
“And playing all the different sports. And being able to have this bond at the end of the day with my new team and teammates.”
As part of an inaugural event in Sydney, two dozen Special Olympics athletes competed alongside about 200 young professionals in what’s known as motionball Marathon of Sport.
The nationwide event is meant to break down barriers, while also supporting athletes with intellectual disabilities in achieving their goals.
A director of the tournament, David Ogbuah, said he first competed in a motionball event about five years ago while living in Halifax.
“The whole mandate for motionball is to integrate, educate and celebrate,” said Ogbuah. “And we try to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics movement.”
As part of the tournament setup, every team is assigned two Special Olympians. The teams then spend the day competing in events such as bocce ball, basketball, ultimate frisbee, road hockey, soccer and beach volleyball.
As part of an opening ceremonies, the athletes received cheers and applause as they ran through a tunnel.
“I know a couple of them, but most of the ones that are here today I’m meeting for the first time,” Ogbuah said of the Special Olympians.
“We really celebrate them. They’re treated like celebrities for the day. It’s really cool to see everybody working together, I mean we’re only 20 minutes in and they’re already a team and cheering each other on.”
Co-director of the event, Chloe Zinck, said 12 teams competed at the tournament, which was held at Cape Breton University. Each team was assigned a fundraising goal of $1,000, although most doubled that amount.
“The best part of it for me is seeing everyone playing together,” she said. “They’re still being competitive but having fun and just raising as much money as we can for our local Special Olympics chapters.
Cyril MacDonald, regional co-ordinator for Special Olympics in Cape Breton said the event showcases skill and also provides necessary support for sport.
“It’s showing businesses and organizations, community members — what Special Olympics are all about,” he said.
“Our athletes are actually athletes. They’re here to compete. They’re here to win. They’re here to work just as hard as everybody else, so I think the biggest thing for us is breaking down that stigma and the barriers of what Special Olympics is all about.”
MacDonald said the organization prides itself on offering free or affordable programming. The Cape Breton Special Olympics chapter sends teams to compete at a summer games each year and at winter games events every two years.
“There’s a cost associated with that, but the cost is minimal for the athletes,” said MacDonald. “If the athletes can’t afford it, we never leave them home.”
According to Zinck, the motionball model provides that 70 per cent of donations stay within a host community, while 25 per cent of funds raised supports the Special Olympics Canada Foundation.
The remaining five per cent is given to the No Good Way campaign which seeks to end the use of derogatory words toward people with disabilities. The event Saturday was presented by Protocase.