Kirsten Bobbie started with Special Olympics Ontario in 2012 as a student intern. She continued on the team and over a few years transitioned into a leadership position, all while seeing the program grow — from 4 regional qualifiers to 80, and from 400 annual participants to 7,500. Now, as Manager of Operations and Logistics for the 2019 Special Olympics Ontario Invitational Youth Games, she’s playing an integral role in bringing together 2,500 student-athletes from around the world to Toronto for four days this May. We spoke to Kirsten about why these games are important — and how our WOI Community can help.
Why do you feel it’s important that the Invitational Youth Games take place?
As is the case with generic sport and community driven causes, big ticket events have the power to bring people together and inspire like no other. The Invitational Youth Games are designed to do just that. Inspire a generation to promote inclusion, build communities, and showcase the strength, determination and abilities of young athletes with an intellectual disability like no event has done before.
Women of Influence is supporting the 2019 Invitational Youth Games with a fundraising drive because we share the same mission of inclusion. What does inclusion mean for your organization?
There is a shift in society all around the world right now; a shift to focus on inclusion. In Special Olympics terms, we call this the #InclusionRevolution, and it’s something we’ve been working towards for 50 years. In 1968, when the first Special Olympics event was held, it was the start of a dream of both co-founders of the movement: Canadian Dr. Frank Hayden, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Their dream? That people with an intellectual disability would have a place to be included in sport, and use the power of sport to grow, develop and gain the awareness needed to be included in all other areas of society.
What are some of the specific ways you are promoting inclusion at the Invitational Youth Games?
As a focus of the Invitational Youth Games, inclusion is felt in a number of different ways, one of which is Unified Sport. Unified Sport teams are comprised of athletes both with and without an intellectual disability who compete together, towards one common goal. In schools, Unified Sports bridge the gap between students of all abilities who can compete on the same team on behalf of their school. An opportunity that is monumentally impactful for both students with an intellectual disability and those without on the team. A chance for all athletes to compete as one — the perfect example of inclusion, and one we hope our athletes, coaches, volunteers and fans will take back home with them.
“An opportunity such as this one — competing on the International stage, travelling to an overnight competition, and even being a part of a high school team — did not exist for high school students with an intellectual disability before these Games.”
Why are the Invitational Youth Games important to you, as an individual?
Back in January 2012, fresh on the Special Olympics Ontario staff team as a College intern, I was fortunate enough to assist the team in their first year of the school competitions model, called Four Corners. Over the years the program grew; from 4 regional qualifiers to 80, and from 400 annual participants to 7,500. To have a front seat in watching a program and an idea grow from grassroots infancy to being showcased on the International stage has, and will continue to be, a highlight of my career.
What do you wish everyone knew about this event?
An opportunity such as this one — competing on the International stage, travelling to an overnight competition, and even being a part of a high school team — did not exist for high school students with an intellectual disability before these Games. Students from around the world may be getting on a plane or train for their first time, and travelling to Canada. The look on their faces, the opportunity they are being given, and the life-changing impact this will have on young adults from around the globe is something everyone needs to experience first hand.
How can individuals or organizations help these inspiring athletes?
You can fund an athlete’s journey to the games. Draft an Athlete or Draft a Team through the dedicated Women of Influence fundraising page, and challenge your network to do the same, individually or collectively. Every dollar raised in these Games goes towards ensuring that everyone can compete and that no athlete is left behind. Every dollar raised is impacting the life of a young adult with an intellectual disability and giving them the opportunity to participate, compete, and be included.
Help us send more athletes to the inaugural Special Olympics Ontario International Youth Games, taking place in Toronto from May 14 – 17. We’re asking our WOI Community to support making dreams a reality by donating today.