When the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games come to Antigonish later this month, count Canadian Senator and former CTV journalist Jim Munson amongst those who will be traveling to town to take in the action.
Munson, the chair of the Senate committee on human rights, is a long-time advocate for individuals with an intellectual disability and a huge supporter of Canadian Special Olympic athletes.
In conversation with the Casket earlier this year, Munson talked about his passion for the Special Olympics, which includes a very personal connection.
“I’ve been involved in Special Olympics ever since I was appointed to the Senate almost 15 years ago,” Munson, originally from Bathurst, New Brunswick, said.
“I saw it as an opportunity to give back in the sense of helping those with intellectual disabilities.
“One of the main reasons is; when my wife and I were first married we had a little boy and his name was Timothy James Alexander Munson and he was Down syndrome and only lived for 10 months. But he did live on this earth and he did so for a reason,” he said, noting little Timothy contracted pneumonia.
“Timmy would be almost 50 now and the interesting thing is Special Olympics was born the year Timothy was born; that was in Soldiers Field, Chicago. Two teams, Canada and the United States, played; I think there were 1,000 athletes and it was just two teams. And now in the world we have 172 countries with well more than 5 million athletes around the world.”
He talked more about his connection and using his roles as a journalist and Senator to help where he can.
“I thought; I’ve been a storyteller when I worked at CTV and from my radio days and I always felt if I could ever do more, than just tell a story, and be part of something, I would do that … and it just seemed to be such a beautiful fit,” Munson said.
“I’ve been working closely with Special Olympics Canada; I’ve worked in raising serious federal funds and I’ve attended [numerous games]. There is a little town here near Ottawa called Navan and I attended games there, so I always say, ‘I go all the way from Navan to Nagano.’
“But it doesn’t matter where I’m at, I find being part of Special Olympics has added to my life … I’ve never been hugged so much in my life,” he added with a heartfelt chuckle.
Munson talked about Antigonish as the host; noting a special friendship he has which connects him to the area.
“I can’t wait to see what happens and takes place in Antigonish because Antigonish holds a special place in my heart; my best friend, Don Connolly - I was best man at Don’s wedding, Don was born in Antigonish although brought up in Bathurst,” he said.
“I’m very familiar with Antigonish; it’s going to be the perfect host because a lot of these national games are held in big cities, Vancouver and other cities have done great jobs, but a community like Antigonish, which always gives, I’m sure will put on quite a show of hospitality.”
Munson said he understands Antigonish has a great volunteer base.
“You’re the home of St. F.X., the home of Coady – the Antigonish Movement – the whole idea of giving and participating in community,” he said. “This is going to be a larger community within the community of Antigonish town and county and what an opportunity for everybody to just share the moment; and the moment is inclusion.”
Munson talked about Special Olympic athletes displaying the “purest” form of athleticism.
“It doesn’t matter if they win; they have a pledge – ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ When you see athletes finishing first, second and third, yes, obviously there is the elation and pure joy, but the person coming in and getting a ribbon at fifth or sixth is just as happy … and even more so for the person who won,” he said.
“So when you take a look at it from that perspective; there was an ad for Special Olympics, with a weight lifter, which always caught my eye. He’s lifting the weight and he goes ‘show me the money, show me the money, show me the money’ and then he drops it and says, ‘it’s not about the money.’”
When asked about his thoughts as he attends Games, Munson talked about a man he believes isn’t mentioned enough when it comes to the Special Olympics movement in Canada.
“Dr. Frank Hayden; he is known in the Special Olympic movement in Canada as ‘Dr. Frank,’” he said.
“He is from Burlington, Ontario, where there is a school named after him, and he was the catalyst who worked with Eunice Kennedy Shriver back in the middle to late 1960s on the whole concept through his university work.
“We used to say ‘oh, they can’t do that, they’ll hurt themselves,’ and it was Dr. Frank Hayden who showed that yes they can participate and he came up with the programs that worked in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s summer camps. To me, he is the father of Special Olympics Canada.
“He is in his late 80s now and a very vibrant person. I’ll be thinking of Dr. Frank and, hopefully, he’ll make it [to Antigonish]. He has gone to, I think, every games, and I hope he’ll make this one in Antigonish because, to me, he is the soul of Special Olympics Canada. So I think my thoughts will be, a lot, with Dr. Frank.”
Munson said he and his wife will be in town for four days enjoying the games.
“Maybe hand out a medal, give a speech or two but, more than anything, get a lot of hugs,” he said, the chuckle returning for the fun-loving thought.