Operation Trackshoes: Volunteer, be inspired, and make a difference

The following blog post was written by Graydon Leigh, a political science major at the University of Victoria. Graydon grew up in Port Coquitlam, BC and aspires to be a journalist. He is an avid hockey fan and is honoured to write about volunteerism in the Victoria community.

Don’t miss out on your chance to participate in a fun-filled weekend! The non-profit organization Operation Trackshoes is hosting their 42nd annual event and is looking for volunteers to assist and mentor competitors.

This philanthropic endeavour, being held June 8th-10th at Centennial Stadium at UVic, provides people with developmental disabilities a chance to compete against, and with, one another in a wide range of sporting events. All the while being accompanied by volunteers who counsel and integrate them into a wider network of friendly individuals.

 I had a chance to speak with Sandra Otway, a main coordinator of the event. Entering her 14th (or 15th, she’s lost count by now) year, the vast amount of passion she has for the event was evident in her voice; this weekend means so much more than fun and games to those involved.

Sandra has a sister with a developmental disability who is emphatic about competing in the event every year. She represents the group of people affected by this magical weekend. The message advanced by Sandra and Operation Trackshoes is one of equality, and solidarity. These games evoke a sense of reciprocity between competitors and volunteers not commonly found in today’s society.

Through their dedication and will to compete, athletes inspire counsellors in a way their professional counterparts never could. Similarly, volunteers interact and provide competitors with a healthy sense of camaraderie. A buddy system is used as volunteers are assigned to competitors based on their experience and training in the field of persons with developmental disabilities.
 The age of competitors range from middle schoolers to seniors approaching 90 years of life experience. Everyone is invited to enjoy the summer camp atmosphere, as fun and social events are commonplace.

From the meet and greet with fellow participants and volunteers on Friday, which features karaoke and drop in baseball, the University of Victoria’s campus transforms into a beacon of positive energy that doesn’t cease until the closing awards ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.

Some of the events included over the 3-day schedule range from more competitive events including hurdles and relays of a variety of distances and high jump, to competitions focused on fun such as leap frog and sack races. There are even competitions for people with different disabilities, such as wheelchair races.

When I originally heard of this uplifting competition I figured its coordination would require a team of paid staff members to host the event. To my surprise I learned every member on Operation Trackshoes’ board is a volunteer. Not only do they all have demanding full-time jobs, the event demands a full year of planning that requires the board to assemble frequently. This board truly captures the spirit of volunteerism at its most essential level: the dedication of ones time and energy for others.

Sandra informed me that in order for there to be another volunteer orientation prior to the event, she would have to receive a few more volunteer applications by Wednesday, May 23rd.

I encourage everyone to attend the June 8-10, 2012 event to experience first hand the joys made possible by Operation Trackshoes. For more details regarding the event visit http://www.trackshoes.ca. If you want to volunteer for a great cause or simply attend a fun-filled weekend, check it out!

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