There were three lasting memories from the Special Olympics BC Summer Games that will stick with Arne Olson for quite some time.
One came before the Games began, one during and one after.
Olson was chair of the Games, which ran July 11 to 13 in Langley.
Olson saw a Special Olympics athlete — a man in his 40s — and he was standing on a sidewalk, staring off.
“I realized later he was missing the people who had dropped him off,” Olson said.
“I saw someone come up to him, a coach, turn, look him full in the face, touch his shoulder and gently — as if he were a piece of fine bone china — and say ‘Kenny, come on, come join us, we want you here with us.’
“He took him so carefully and kindly, and with respect, back in to join the team,” Olson said.
“I thought that is all you can really ask of an organization, to treat people like that. I was so struck with that.”
The second was during the rhythmic gymnastics competition.
“I saw competitor after competitor absolutely giving it their complete and utter best,” he described.
“I saw one woman who had a metal brace extending below her knee. And how you do rhythmic gymnastics with a metal brace on, I have no idea.
“The courage with which these athletes competed, not just in that event, but in every event, there is no limit to the try that these athletes have. It is just full on, full throttle, raw competition and it was just a remarkable thing to watch.”
And the third lasting memory was walking through the Walnut Grove Secondary gym — which hosted the closing ceremonies and an athletes’ dance on Saturday night — as the competitors danced away to the music.
“I saw athletes of every shape and description and I was stuck with this thought, this picture,” he said.
“Every painter has a palette with colours that you use and as I looked at this group of people, I was stuck with that I had a complete glimpse of God’s full complete palette. I was quite taken with that.”
More than 1,100 athletes from around the province and the Yukon, 300 coaches and 1,200 volunteers took part in the Games.
“I was really pleased to see how many Games volunteers came up to me afterwards to ask how they can continue being involved with Special Olympics,” said Pam Keith, the Special Olympics BC chair, as well as the announcer for the rhythmic gymnastics competition.
“In addition to being an amazing experience in itself, I think this Games will leave a great legacy of appreciation and awareness for Special Olympics.”
Olson, who had originally wanted 1,000 volunteers, was impressed with how flexible they were, many of them ending up with differing roles than what they were supposed to do.
He also credited the generosity of the community, not just in terms of their time, but in their resources as well.
Organization for the Games began in April 2012.
Olson said while there is a sense of satisfaction from hosting a successful Games, it is also bittersweet to see everything come to a close.
And while the opening ceremonies at the Langley Events Centre were a much more elaborate affair, the closing ceremonies consisted of a speech from Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese and Olson’s closing address, which included just four lines: “Who loves to dance, who thinks they are a great dancer, are you happy, and if you are happy, then our Games organizing committee is happy.”