TORONTO—Two Islanders were honoured with prestigious awards from Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) at its recent annual general meeting and awards night, with Manitowaning’s Matthew Bedard being named Male Athlete of the Year and coach Janet Anning receiving the President’s Award.
“When I heard of my friends winning Male Athlete of the Year, it was exciting for them but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever win,” said Mr. Bedard. “I kept on being myself and supporting others, becoming the athlete I wanted to be. In the course of time, my coach announced I was Male Athlete of the Year and she received (the President’s Award). It was a very exciting night.”
Candidates for athlete of the year in Special Olympics Ontario are judged on their level of participation, their improvement in both physical ability and personal growth, their level of sportsmanship and their ability to be a role model and positive force for the Special Olympics organization. One male and one female athlete are named every year.
The program from the evening jokes about how Mr. Bedard’s speed was evident even when he underwent a quick birth (and was delivered by his father, a doctor) on Manitoulin Island to earn official Haweater status.
Mr. Bedard competes in both summer and winter events and told The Expositor that he will be on the Island’s snowshoe team at the 2020 winter games in Thunder Bay this coming February. Mr. Bedard is also a medalist in track events. He said he hoped this award win might be inspiring to other aspiring athletes.
“It just means that you’ve come very far to where you are now. When you achieve that, it’s … inspiring, not just to yourself, but other people as well who will hear about it. ‘If he could become the athlete of the year from Manitoulin, so could others,’” said Mr. Bedard, who added that his teammates were very excited for his win.
He has taken part in the 2017 Special Olympics World Games in Austria, earned a black belt in karate in 2010 and holds certification in the culinary arts. When Mr. Bedard is not helping to make maple syrup, mill wood or aid in carpentry, he expresses his love for food in his work at Little Current’s Anchor Inn Restaurant, runs a sausage cart at the Cup and Saucer trail and caters events to help fundraise for Special Olympics events.
“Matt remains a gentle, strong soul in a turbulent world and has, along with his sister, made me extremely proud. I would like to thank the greater Special Olympics community from the bottom of my heart for giving him this incredible, life-changing opportunity,” said Mr. Bedard’s father, Michael.
“It was so nice to see other people being rewarded, see their smiling faces and just see how proud they are to be congratulated,” concluded the younger Mr. Bedard.
Manitoulin Special Olympics community co-ordinator and coach Janet Anning was also on the list of recognitions at the event. She has taken part in Special Olympics activities since 2006.
“Janet has seen her chapter grow from one sport to seven. She has coached athletics, five-pin bowling, Nordic skiing, golf, curling, floor hockey and snowshoeing,” read the program booklet from the awards ceremony.
“It was awesome. It was just an honour to be awarded in the first place, and especially being there with Matt at the same time,” said Ms. Anning.
During her time as the leader of the Manitoulin Special Olympics organization, Ms. Anning has sent four of her athletes to compete in world games.
The President’s Award is given to a volunteer who has meaningfully fostered and grown the Special Olympics Ontario program and who aligns with the spirit, goals and philosophy of the organization. Despite the high honour, Ms. Anning said her commitment and approach to Special Olympics will not change.
“I’m going to keep striving forward to improve what we’re doing. Hopefully something like this shows young volunteers that maybe they should step up and start coming forward as well,” she said. “I’m going to keep working with athletes to improve their health and fitness abilities and their opportunities.”
Mr. Bedard similarly said he would continue dedicating himself just as much to Special Olympics after receiving his honour.
“I’m going to keep doing what I love to do, keep training, keep inspiring people and be the athlete I am now,” he said.
Ms. Anning described Manitoulin Special Olympics as a wonderful group for anyone with special needs and one that provides an opportunity to make great connections with others in a rewarding atmosphere.
“We have a great community group on Manitoulin Island. We are a second family. I couldn’t imagine my life without being involved in Special Olympics,” she said.
All of the winners from the Special Olympics Ontario ceremony will be forwarded to the national awards level at Special Olympics Canada for a chance at earning Canada-wide glory.