It's a special experience — for everyone involved.
Currently in its fifth year, the Special Tigers program is connects children and teens with cognitive disabilities to Dal varsity athletes through sport. The program, started by current Dalhousie Medical student Rebecca Haworth, has grown since the first event in 2012. The program was started during Haworth’s undergrad degree and is now continued by current varsity athletes, led by Haworth’s sister Victoria, Daniel Maguire and Annie Douglas.
The events are run monthly in the Dalplex fieldhouse, with bi-monthly sessions in the pool. The events are usually attended by 15-20 youth, and there is room to continue to grow. Some of the activities include basketball, soccer, mini-stick hockey, badminton, parachuting and many more.
Rebecca says Dalhousie athletics has a strong culture of giving back to the community that does so much for it, and that it's important that university athletes continue to be positive role models for youth growing up around them.
“A lot of varsity student-athletes have come from communities where they gained valuable experience from older athletes, but not all kids have that opportunity,” she says. “This is a way for us to help involve kids, who might not normally get the chance, in sports and games that we love.”
Building an experience
Many student-athletes who were around when the program first started have since graduated, but there continues to be an outpouring of support from athletes. There is often a 2:1 ratio of athletes to participants, representing every varsity team.
“It’s great to see the program continue to grow under the leadership of the newer athletes. It shows how meaningful the program is to the varsity athletes here at Dal,” continued Rebecca, who jokingly adds, “now that it’s no longer just me trying to round up my own teammates to help when it first started.”
When speaking to the current varsity athletes involved in the program, there is a reoccurring theme of getting more youth involved in physical activity.
“All kids deserve to be involved in sports and we have the ability to introduce these activities to some who might not have the chance otherwise," says Rebecca's sister Victoria, a varsity volleyball player. "I’m very proud at the amount of support the program has received from our varsity athletes, as well as the community.”
Making a difference
“It’s a really fun experience and it’s a really easy way to get varsity athletes involved in the community,” track and field athlete Elizabeth Comeau explained, “including populations that we, as athletes, may not always be involved with.”
One of the current leaders of the Special Tigers program, and varsity swimmer, Annie Douglas touched on the potential future for the program.
“In the future we’d like to see the numbers come up and get more participants involved. We have a great showing of support from our athletes, and the more kids we can help get involved with physical activity, the better.”
If you would like to find out more information, or would like to get involved with the Special Tigers program, visit the program's Facebook page.
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