A local Special Olympian received a special surprise from Ontario’s top cop Monday morning.
Orillia’s Stephen Graham was at OPP General Headquarters, where the force was celebrating the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics.
He knew he was going to be the guest speaker for the celebration, but he didn’t know Interim OPP Commissioner Gary Couture was going to present him with the Special Olympics 50th-anniversary medal.
The medal is reserved for a “champion,” Couture said, adding that’s exactly what Graham is.
“He’s been involved for many years. He’s recognized by fellow athletes. He motivates other people,” Couture said of the decorated speed skater. “To me, that’s the win.”
Graham, 37, recently returned from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which hosted the Special Olympics World Games. Graham didn’t compete, but he was among 10 athletes from around the world chosen to take part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
“It was an amazing experience. So many athletes (were nominated to take part) and I got selected,” Graham said.
In many ways, he said, preparing for the torch run was like preparing for competition: expect the unexpected.
There were few obstacles along the route, Graham said, noting most were minor, like waiting for a bus that was late. He also waited for a prince who was late. He didn’t mind, though, as he was “proud and excited” to be part of the event.
In his typical style, Graham was quick to deflect the praise.
“They say it’s all about the athletes, but it’s as much about the officers, too,” he said of the law-enforcement officials who support Special Olympians.
Receiving the 50th-anniversary medal “was a shocker,” he said, but added it, too, was about more than him.
“They’re as much a part of this as I am,” he said of his fellow athletes, many of whom were in the audience Monday to support Graham. “I just happened to receive it. Everybody here — they make me who I am.”
He also thanked the Knights of Columbus, who were also represented at the event, for their support of Special Olympics.
Graham’s speech moved Bill Dickson, a member of the OPP and the Law Enforcement Torch Run operations committee.
“He was talking about his teammates,” Dickson said. “He truly is inspirational.”
Fifty communities were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics on Monday.
The OPP has started a Draft an Athlete campaign with the goal of raising $50,000 to send 50 athletes to the inaugural Special Olympics Ontario Youth Invitational Games, which will take place May 14 to 17 in Toronto. That’s $1,000 per athlete, and it covers all associated costs of attending the games. More information about how to draft an athlete can be found here.
The fundraising total for this year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run has not yet been determined. Last year, $3.3 million was raised in Canada — $2.4 million of which was collected in Ontario.