ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Carey Clannon of Team Nova Scotia provided as perfect an answer as possible, when asked about his favourite part of the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games in Antigonish.
“Everything,” the Arichat, Cape Breton native said, moments after leaving the podium with one of his three bronze medals Saturday afternoon on St. F.X.’s Memorial Field.
Clannon was one of many athletes who received medals on the final day of competition.
“I am so proud of myself,” Stacey Saunders of Team Nova Scotia said with a wide smile after receiving a gold medal for the 100m dash.
The Stellarton, Pictou County native also garnered a second first-place finish, as a member of the Bluenose 4X100m relay team, along with a bronze for the shot put.
The medal ceremony is not only a time in the spotlight marking the achievements of the Special Olympics’ athlete, but also one of great pride for friends and families.
“I am so proud of her,” Curtis Richard of Antigonish said, a few minutes after watching his daughter Kristina collect a gold medal for her track and field prowess.
Richard, who reflected on the drives to practice they shared during her training to compete on the national stage, said he would not have missed the moment for the world.
“I promised her [I would be here],” the well-known delivery driver and staff member with the iconic Wheel Pizza & Sub Shop in Antigonish said.
To ensure he fulfilled that pledge, Richard took his first vacation in 15 years.
“It’s awesome,” Kristina said of having her father share the golden moment.
It was also an unforgettable time for Ben and Claire Clannon as they watched their son, the aforementioned Carey, enjoying his time on the medal podium.
“We are so proud of him,” Claire said, noting his fan club throughout the week included family members who travelled from Newfoundland and Wisconsin.
“He looks forward to it – especially socializing and meeting new people,” the delighted mother said, when asked how her son has benefitted from his Special Olympics’ experience.
The Games in Antigonish also left an impression on the athletes, coaches, families and visitors that came to the northeastern Nova Scotia community from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
“It has been an excellent time,” Crystal Young of Team Newfoundland and Labrador said after competing in a 4X100m race Saturday morning.
The Harbour Grace native, who has been a Special Olympics athlete since 1999, including as a member of Team Canada in the 2017 World Winter Games in Austria in snowshoeing, noted her Antigonish experience was second-to-none.
“I loved it,” she said.
Young and the other more than 1,000 athletes touched countless people, with not only their athleticism, but also their dedication, hard work, sportsmanship and, of course, friendship.
“Their reaction is amazing – I just love it – no matter where they finish. It is awesome,” Karys Ross, 11, said. She was one of the many youngsters who donned what became the familiar neon T-shirt worn by volunteers.
‘You will be with us forever’
The Games, which took place for only the second time in Nova Scotia, included more than 1,000 athletes from all 12 territorial chapters – along with more than 600 volunteers and more than 3,000 fans, with competition taking place and medals awarded in nine sports; athletics, basketball, soccer, softball, bocce, golf, rhythmic gymnastics, powerlifting and swimming.
After the final events and medal presentations wrapped up, the closing ceremony took place Saturday evening at the St. F.X. Keating Centre, where the five-day celebration officially opened July 31.
“You have gone above and beyond,” Sharon Bollenbach, CEO of Special Olympics Canada, said in thanking Antigonish and Nova Scotia for hosting an “outstanding Games.”
She credited the Antigonish organizing committee for achieving “incredible success” through its hard work and dedication.
“You have welcomed all of us with open arms,” Bollenbach added.
She also praised the “unbelievable spirit of volunteerism” provided during the Games.
“You continue to change hearts and minds of people around the world,” Bollenbach said of the Special Olympics movement.
Before leaving the podium, she made one request of athletes, coaches and their supporters, leading them in a thunderous ‘thank you, Antigonish,’ which was followed by a standing ovation.
Some teams also used their clothing to do the same, with Team Manitoba members donning T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Thank You, Antigonish’ across the back, while Team B.C. displayed the phrase ‘from our coast to your coast, thanks.’
In their closing remarks, Antigonish organizing committee co-chairs – Marc Champoux and Carl Chisholm – reflected on what they and everyone in the community learned from the athletes; fair play, determination, courage, strength, confidence, encouragement and kindness – just to name a few.
“You will be with us forever,” Chisholm said, adding “you have taught us the true meaning of what being an athlete is.”
They wished the Special Olympics athletes “continued success as your journey continues.”
With the announcement it was time to lower the Special Olympics Canada flag, there were a few moans – because of the realization that the Games were coming to an end, but they soon turned to cheers as Chisholm and Champoux handed it over to representatives of Team Ontario.
Thunder Bay will host the next gathering of athletes in national competition for the Special Olympics Canada 2020 Winter Games.
After St. F.X. Vice President and Provost Kevin Wamsley, Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher and Municipality of the County of Antigonish Deputy Warden Hughie Stewart officially closed the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games, the packed house received a final taste of entertainment befitting the ‘Highland Heart of Nova Scotia.’
With the flame also extinguished in the Special Olympics Cauldron, which was perched atop a nine-foot high commemorative cairn created and constructed in Antigonish during the Games in Special Olympics 50th Square on the St. F.X. campus, the night ended with an athletes’ only dance.