Special Olympics engages the heart and soul of its volunteers

M’CHIGEENG—Special Olympics coach and Bluegrass in the Country volunteer Roslyn Taylor was drawn into a more active role in her volunteerism than she had originally planned, but she said she didn’t regret a moment of it.

“I am really a background kind of person,” she said. “When I first started working with Janet (Anning, a long time Island Special Olympics advocate) I just wanted to do the background stuff, I started out doing paperwork, registrations and that kind of stuff.” But something quickly changed along the way.

“I realized that I had just made a bunch of new friends who loved to laugh as much as I do,” she said. Ms. Taylor found the Special Olympians she met during her involvement with the Island program to be “optimistic, positive, happy, affectionate…you just forget all about your stuff,” she said.

Ms. Taylor was no stranger to volunteerism when she first became involved with the Special Olympics program; she had already spent many years engaged with Manitoulin Minor Hockey. “I was a trainer,” she said. “I wasn’t on the ice.”

After she became involved with the Special Olympics program, however, Ms. Taylor soon found herself drawn into a closer orbit.

“I just started out filling in holes where someone was needed,” she said. As to her role as a Special Olympics coach, Ms. Taylor demurred about being anything special.

“I would rather be the one out in the field with the athletes,” she said.

Asked how long she has been volunteering with the Special Olympics program, Ms. Taylor pauses for a second. “About six, no wait, nine years; it seems like it hasn’t been very long at all,” she laughs. “I had to stop and really think about that.”

As to what motivates her to be involved in her volunteerism, the pause is shorter and there is not a hint of confusion in her answer. “You get more out of it (volunteering with the Special Olympics program) than they do,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Ms. Taylor has a sheet of paper she has brought with her to the interview and it quickly becomes apparent what has prompted this avowed limelight shunner to agree to be interviewed. At the first opportunity she launches into an explanation of the Island’s Special Olympics program.

“We have eight sports,” she said, noting that the program has expanded greatly from the original three sports it encompassed on Manitoulin. “There is baseball, track and field, bowling, curling, skiing, snowshoeing, floor hockey and golf.” There are a lot of really wonderful people who are volunteering as coaches, she adds.

But, although the volunteer coaches are proud of what they have accomplished with their athletes, Ms. Taylor said that the program is in real need of more advanced and specialized coaches. “We can only take them so far,” she said, getting her first program plug in. “If there are retired coaches out there with some time to spare and a talent they would like to share they would find it really rewarding.”

Ms. Taylor notes that the social aspect of the Special Olympics program plays as important a role as the athletics and there are fewer places to see that shine through than at the annual Bluegrass in the Country program. That program is the central fundraising event for the Special Olympics and Ms. Taylor said that she found herself becoming a staunch fan of the musical genre, a conversion that started from day one. (Enter plug two.) “When you are at a dance or anything with music in it, the athletes are the first ones up on the dance floor,” she said. “There are no wallflowers.”