Newton resident Ryan Canuel is aiming to be among track athletes who will compete in Surrey at the 2021 Special Olympics BC Summer Games. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey athlete ‘thrilled’ the city will host Special Olympics B.C. Summer Games in 2021

More than 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities will be here for three days

The Special Olympics B.C. Summer Games are coming to Surrey in less than two years, and Ryan Canuel is excited for the chance to compete in his home town.

The Newton-area resident is a long-distance runner who is gunning to qualify for the Games, which will involve more than 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities for three days in July of 2021.

Surrey was announced as the first-time event host Thursday (Nov. 7) during a news conference at city hall.

The Games will involve athletes in 10 sports, including athletics, basketball, bocce, golf, powerlifting, 10-pin bowling, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, softball and swimming.

On the track, Canuel is aiming to be among top performers at the Games in order to make Team B.C. and earn a trip to the 2022 Special Olympics in Medicine Hat and, beyond that, the 2023 Games in Berlin, Germany.

“I’m very thrilled this will be held in Surrey,” Canuel, 21, told the Now-Leader. “At least we’re going to have home advantage. It’s an honour because this will be the first time Surrey has hosted these Games.”

• RELATED STORY, from February: Special Olympics B.C. Games a huge hit in Vernon.

Earlier, in a five-minute speech, Canuel said he’s been involved in Special Olympics BC programs for 11 years as an athlete, mentor and advocate. 

At age 10, he first tried Special Olympics sports.

“Having high-functioning autism associated with a lack of understanding basic social cues at the time, it was an impossible task for me to make friends or find common ground to make connections,” he told the audience. “As a result I felt alone and different from my piers – that is, until I went to my first Special Olympics floor hockey practice.

“The euphoria, it hooked me,” Canuel continued. “I still remember the warm, welcoming demeanor that was exhibited. The community coming together to celebrate one another’s accomplishments, failures, strengths and weaknesses was so different from what I had previously experienced. This has made me into the person I am today.

“Now and I am 21 and very charming,” he said with a smile, to laughter and applause.

Currently, Canuel trains five days a week, two to three hours a day, on the track at Bear Creek Park, which is among possible venues for the Games in 2021.

One confirmed facility is Guildford Recreation Centre, for swimming and possibly other events.

“It will be an awesome location,” said Tara Roberts, the city’s manager of support services and accessibility. “It has a lot of room for spectators, and that’s one thing we’re encouraging is for people to come watch the action and get involved. The nice thing about (Guildford) rec is that it has a lot of space, so that will allow community programming to happen at the same time there. It will be very inclusive and integrated, which is exciting for us.”

Roberts said additional Games venues should be confirmed over the next couple of months. “We are still trying to secure space for some of the sports, including soccer, and we’re aiming to use the track at Bear Creek Park for events. We’re still exploring those sites.”

From eight regions around B.C. and the Yukon, the athletes will be travelling to Surrey in 2021 with close to 300 volunteer coaches and mission staff.

In partnership with Surrey Schools, 120 classrooms will be used rent-free as housing for the athletes, with access to washrooms, cafeterias and possibly buses, according to school district chair Laurie Larsen.

• RELATED STORY, from September: Special Olympics BC requests space at Surrey schools for sleeping quarters during games.

To make the Games happen, up to 1,100 volunteers will be needed. Registration for those positions will begin in 2020.

Canuel said he hopes many Surrey residents get involved in the sporting event.

“These Games are not just a marker of how far you make it in a competitive environment,” he said. “Special Olympics teaches people to persevere and get through strenuous periods, and they give individuals a chance to make long-lasting friendships, have a means of networking to face whatever challenges may arise and overcoming them together rather than alone.”

In 2021, the SOBC Games’ opening ceremony will be held on July 8, followed by competition on July 9 and 10. A closing ceremony open only to Games competitors will be held on July 10, followed by a volunteer recognition breakfast on July 11.

The event will be an “exciting and empowering” experience for the Special Olympians involved, according to a Special Olympics BC media release. “For many, these Games offer their first opportunity to have the joy of travelling and being part of a team. The dedicated competitors will be shooting for personal-best performances, and they will also be chasing the opportunity to advance to national and international levels of competition.”

In 55 communities across the province, Special Olympics BC offers year-round training and competitive opportunities in 18 different sports, for more than 5,200 athletes of all ages, involving more than 4,300 volunteers. For more information, visit specialolympics.bc.ca or the Special Olympics Surrey website, sobcsurrey.ca.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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