Antigonish is the latest stop on a half-century Special Olympics’ journey for Dr. Frank and Marion Hayden.
As they watched athletics from the stands of St. F.X.’s Oland Stadium Wednesday morning, during the 2018 Summer Games, it didn’t seem that long ago.
“It has been a very fast 50 years,” Frank, who is known as a pioneer of the Special Olympics’ movement, said with a laugh.
It all began in 1968 with the inaugural Games at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“It was the two of us, alone, with a microphone on the goal line. We ran those first Games. We were there all day long – never left,” Frank recalled of that time with Marion.
Now, millions of athletes, from countries around the world, are part of Special Olympics.
“It has been terrific,” Hayden said.
“I worked my butt off, along the way, but the success has been built on the fact that we have been able to find people like this,” Hayden said, gesturing at the activity around him.
His involvement in what would become Special Olympics began with his research into the fitness level of children with intellectual disabilities.
Hayden said he planned to stage the first Games in Canada, as part of the country’s centennial celebrations in 1967.
“The National Centennial Games is what I called it, at that point,” he recalled, noting federal funding was in place to stage the event.
Before that came to fruition, officials with the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation learned of his ground breaking research.
“They asked me to come and talk about what I was doing,” Hayden said.
“The short story is they wanted me to come down there and do what I was going to do up here.”
One year later, in 1969, the first Canadian Games took place in Toronto.
“The people who are associated with this movement are so terrific,” Hayden said.
“In a world where you hear a lot of sad and alarming things these days – and what not – if you want to get reassured about what human nature really is, come and see the people; the coaches, volunteers, parents and the athletes.
“You realize, ‘hey, this is a great world after all,’” he added.
Special Olympics have left an indelible mark on Hayden.
“It has brought as much to my life as it has to anybody in the movement,” Hayden said.
The Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games in Antigonish continue until Saturday.